Our COVID-19 Response
Our sector has undergone a massive upheaval in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic. And at the tail end of our fiscal year, March 2020, we began to ramp up a response that will continue beyond the publication of this report.
We now have data to explain the major shift in labour that our teams felt on the frontlines. Millions of volunteers were dismissed from their roles at non-profits and 43% of staff that supported them were laid off or saw a reduction of hours. Yet, communities were crying out for food, healthcare, and employment support, the type that volunteerism often enables. Suddenly, we knew our role—to manage the supply and demand of volunteer labour when it's needed most.
Volunteer Response Team
from April-June 2020
Supported by Remote Volunteer Advisors
To harness new volunteer interest in response to the pandemic, on March 19, 2020, we launched a COVID-19 Volunteer Response Team—within 24 hours, more than a thousand individuals signed up to help. The team, now nearly 10,000 strong, receives Alerts with
in need roles and training opportunities focused on response and recovery.
As racialized communities were being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, both directly and indirectly, we wanted to immediately bring attention to these disparities. As a small organization, we needed to increase our capacity very quickly and Volunteer Toronto’s support came at the right time. Over 100 volunteers expressed interest within a few days of posting. This helped us run a three-month campaign highlighting the impact of COVID-19 on racialized communities.
— Neethan Shan, Executive Director
Before the pandemic, ten of our dedicated Volunteer Advisors provided services to the public during in-office shifts. As volunteerism experts, they share information on non-profits and grassroots groups, navigating VolunteerToronto.ca, volunteer postings, and application processes. In mid-March 2020, in only one week, the Advisor team adapted to provide remote services conducted from each volunteer’s home.
Appointments with our Remote Volunteer Advisors were booked two-weeks in advance for the first three months of the pandemic. During this time, the team provided advice to 1,250 volunteer seekers looking for meaningful opportunities to help in their community.
None of this would be possible without our superstar volunteer, Samah Abdelaziz, as Remote Advisor Team Lead.
To help with this influx the charity, which connects 400,000 volunteers with about 1,000 organizations each year, has also set up a team of remote volunteer advisors who will be available by email or phone to answer questions and provide assistance starting Monday, March 23.
Coordinator for Essential
To meet increasing needs from vulnerable community members, many non-profits and grassroots groups are ramping up service delivery and redeploying or engaging more volunteers. New programs, such as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) delivery and essential good shopping ensure people get the things they need while staying safe and practicing social distancing.
Other cultural institutions, such as the Harbourfront Community Centre and Young People's Theatre, are going virtual. This allows them to keep volunteers engaged in their mission while in-person services are paused. With guidance from Volunteer Toronto, some are planning to develop virtual programming for the long-term.
In the spring of 2020, we began to host sector forums for volunteer managers on the frontlines, leading discussions on barriers to ramping up volunteer participation. Staff that manage volunteers in meals on wheels, food banks, tax clinics, housing, mental health, seniors support, and employment programs, were invited to share solutions and problems with their peers—these forums have continued throughout Summer 2020.
It is now with emergency funding support from the United Way Greater Toronto, three Volunteer Centres: Volunteer Toronto, Volunteer MBC, and Volunteer Markham, are working to address identified barriers to ramping up volunteer engagement. Together,
a GTA-wide approach will be deployed for urgent recruitment, enhanced volunteer screening, and new training interventions to help programs adapt.
Thank you to the City of Toronto, United Way of Greater Toronto, the Toronto Non-Profit Network and Volunteer Canada for hosting calls for community agencies, all of which have
held a significant role in prioritizing our response efforts. We continue to collaborate with community leaders to advocate for the meaningful management of volunteer labour.
Read the below Opinion Editorials for more of our observations during COVID-19:
by Joanne Mckiernan for Toronto.com (published June 2, 2020)
by Joanne Mckiernan for Foundation Magazine (published August 2020)