It was while walking with his faithful four-legged companion that the germ of an idea for helping the community’s most vulnerable was born in Jim McKenna’s mind.
And the former social worker and educator is hoping the community’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic can be Pictou County’s finest hour.
The New Glasgow resident explains, “I was walking my dog when I thought about my 96-year-old neighbour and wondered what he might be going through in all of this. He lives alone and neighbours said he was afraid with all that was going on. I knocked on his door but he didn’t answer, so I wrote a note and put it on his door.”
The note was simple: If you need anything, we’ve got you. We, being the entire community which, at last count on Monday afternoon, was almost 3,000 people strong.
That’s the number of caring local citizens who jumped at the opportunity to help and be a part of positivity in the face of the COVID-19 virus pandemic that is gripping the globe and hitting home in Nova Scotia.
“I thought — I hoped — that a few people would respond,” McKenna laughs. “Thank you Pictou County! Response has been phenomenal. Your response has overwhelmed me. I hoped to get about 50 people when I started this group. We are well beyond that.”
‘This group’ refers to the Facebook group ‘Helping during Coronovirus-Pictou County,’ created as a way to stay in touch with your neighbour, help them where needed, and prove that we’re all in this together.
The premise is simple: Anyone needing help — whether it’s with acquiring a few groceries or getting a medical prescription delivered or needing a friendly voice on the other end of the phone to break the social isolation — just needs to contact the group on Facebook and help will arrive.
The group was set up to help those in need during this crisis: seniors, individuals with compromised immune systems, those who are in self-isolation because of suspected COVID-19 and those who are self-isolating because they have returned to Pictou County after travelling outside of the country.
Guidelines for assistance have been out in place for helping those who seek assistance. And first and foremost is no direct contact.
“We’re not having direct contact with people; it’s door-drop only,” McKenna explained. “Make arrangements to drop items off on their doorstep, in their vehicle, etc. Do not expose yourself to risk by making contact with the person needing help.”
McKenna said the way calls for assistance will work is simple: If someone has a need they will post their need and where they live on Facebook. The first person who can fulfill this need in a timely manner will respond. Other guidelines include the fact that everyone lending a hand is a volunteer; no one is paid and no one should be accepting any payment from those in need. If you are not feeling well, don’t volunteer.
Handling other people’s money is discouraged, McKenna said. Those in need should make payment arrangements with the drug store, grocery store, etc. Volunteers should only act as delivery persons.
McKenna has been in touch with the food banks in Pictou East, Pictou West and the Salvation Army who, he said, are all onboard with the program. “All of them were more than willing to help.”
The overwhelming response did not surprise McKenna, but the speed at which so many people jumped on board did. “People talk about Pictou County not being a great place to live, but these types of metrics are not measured in the surveys. This has gone far beyond what I imagined.”
He added, “This is a very stressful time for all of us. But together we can support those in our community who need help. This is not a sprint, it will be a marathon. I’m touched with all of the support this has received and know it’s a wonderful place we live.”
Anyone who can assist during this difficult time is encouraged to join the group ‘Helping during Coronovirus-Pictou County,’ on Facebook.