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Volunteers needed to aid Calgary seniors

Merilyn and Emily are a client and volunteer with the Calgary Seniors Resource Centre. The busy centre expects demand for services to increase in coming weeks, and so is looking for hundreds more volunteers. PHOTO supplied by Calgary Seniors Resource Centre

Annastasia Stevens has heard from many seniors.

They’re anxious. They’re afraid. They don’t want to leave their homes.

Many of these seniors have, in the past, relied on the Calgary Seniors’ Resource Society (CSRS) and that need is expected to grow significantly in the weeks ahead as the coronavirus spreads through the city.

Stevens said her agency is planning to be prepared for the wave that is expected to hit.

“Right now, we’ve opened the floodgates and the water isn’t coming through yet, but we know that in two, three or four weeks, it will be gushing through at a rate we can’t manage,” said Stevens, social supports manager for CSRS. “We want to get ahead of it by getting the volunteers into the track to be screened and have them ready to go as needs emerge.”

The resource society announced in late March that it wants to grow its volunteer total by some 500 people in the coming weeks to deal with the fallout of COVID-19.

For 25 years, the CSRS has focused on supporting at-risk seniors in Calgary, meaning those who live in poverty or perhaps are without family support in the community.

Because of the wide reach of the virus, the CSRS is attempting to support any senior in Calgary that needs the service by loosening qualifying rules and criteria. Casting the wider net means the agency will need more volunteers and, thus, the CSRS has created a fast track to screen and train volunteers, ensuring they’re able to provide the services quickly to those who need it.

There are three key areas that the CSRS focuses on. The first is by participating in a city-wide network of social workers who provide long-term support to seniors with housing transitions, assisting with benefit applications and the like.

The second stream is unique to the agency, a program called SeniorConnect, which provides urgent, same-day social worker response.

“You might have an elderly neighbour whose husband recently passed away,” says Stevens. “You know that this person used to be avid gardener and was outside a lot, but you have noticed recently that when you see her house now, the grass is two feet tall, the blinds are drawn all the time, and you might be thinking I don’t know how to reach out, but I have a concern.”

The third focus area for CSRS is the social supports department, which sees volunteers driving seniors to their medical appointments or dropping off groceries, medication and toiletries to clients’ homes.

In normal times, Stevens and her colleagues service 1,600 clients with the support of 1,500 volunteers.

The weeks and months ahead will no doubt be challenging. Stevens hears the concerns from vulnerable seniors every day.

“Almost all the seniors that we see regularly are extremely socially isolated,” says Stevens. “They don’t have family or their family isn’t around or doesn’t help them; they feel very disconnected. One of the things we’re hearing is the social distancing measures that have been put in place, while absolutely critical to the public health, also have a negative impact because seniors who are already isolated are that much more isolated. That’s been a big concern. They’re experiencing increased loneliness, and especially when they’re feeling frightened and anxious to not have someone to reassure them … that’s extra difficult.”

For more information on how you can volunteer to help the Calgary Seniors’ Resource Society, visit its website at