Coronavirus: Kind Canadians start 'caremongering' trend

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Canadian military at airport in OntarioImage source, Getty Images
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Canada will close its borders

Just a few days ago the word "caremongering" did not exist. Now, what started as a way to help vulnerable people in Toronto has turned into a movement spreading fast across Canada.

More than 35 Facebook groups have been set up in 72 hours to serve communities in places including Ottawa, Halifax and Annapolis County in Nova Scotia, with more than 30,000 members between them.

People are joining the groups to offer help to others within their communities, particularly those who are more at risk of health complications related to coronavirus.

The pandemic has led to acts of kindness around the world, from delivering soup to the elderly in the UK to an exercise class held for quarantined residents on their balconies in Spain.

But in Canada, a country whose inhabitants are stereotyped in the media as kind to a fault, helping others has become an organised movement called "caremongering".

As it's all driven by social media, the altruism is arranged online and the hashtags provide a permanent record of all the good happening in different communities across Canada - an uplifting read in anxious times.

The first "caremongering" group was set up by Mita Hans with the help of Valentina Harper and others. Valentina explained the meaning behind the name.

"Scaremongering is a big problem," she tells the BBC. "We wanted to switch that around and get people to connect on a positive level, to connect with each other.

"It's spread the opposite of panic in people, brought out community and camaraderie, and allowed us to tackle the needs of those who are at-risk all the time - now more than ever."

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Founder Valentina Harper says the idea is to create a contagion of kindness

Valentina said the rapid growth of the trend was far beyond her expectations, with the Toronto group itself now having more than 9,000 members.

"We thought we'd have a couple dozen people," she said with a laugh. "It's grown to thousands.

"But the most positive thing is the local groups that have started, geared to specific neighbourhoods. It's really shown us the need that people have to have some level of reassurance and hope.

"Anxiety, isolation and lack of hope affects you. In providing this virtual community which allows people to help each other, I think it is really showing people there is still hope for humanity. We haven't lost our hope."

'This will give me a fighting chance'

Typically, posts are divided between two main topics - #iso and #offer. #iso posts are for people "in search of" help, whereas #offer posts are (as the name implies) for people offering help.

There are other topics for things like discussions, news articles and which shops are open, but these two tags make up the bulk of the posts in the groups.

Paul Viennau, who joined the caremongering group in Halifax, said that the help he received through the trend felt "like a hug".

"There's a lot of negative things about social media," he tells the BBC. "It's a place that can make you feel isolated normally. This is an opportunity to people to reach out and help each other.

"I have had a disability for the last 29 years, plus a compromised immune system. I live on hand sanitiser in normal circumstances. I started to worry about running out three days ago."

A friend asked on Paul's behalf for hand sanitiser in the Halifax caremongering group, and someone soon came through. Shortly after, Paul joined up to leave a message thanking everyone for their help.

"I am completely and sincerely feeling some love over it," he said. "If I get the flu or coronavirus I will be in hospital.

"This will give me a fighting chance. Thank you."

'It has been life-changing'

There are countless examples of goodwill on the various Facebook groups.

These include a single mother in Ottawa receiving food for her baby, a group of people in Toronto offering to cook meals for those who are unable, and a community in Prince Edward Island who gave grocery store gift cards to a woman who was laid off because of closures related to Coronavirus.

One of the most popular acts is to go to the supermarket for those who are unable - though depending on luck this can prove to be an act of extreme patience as one Hamilton woman discovered when going to a Walmart at 5:30am on Saturday - the queue was a long one.

Unreal!!!! Saturday @530 am!!! Walmart 2190 Rymal road east (Hamilton)

Posted by Villanueva Donna Mae on Saturday, March 14, 2020
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original post on Facebook

But the groups are not exclusively for people who are able to give help, or even those who need it.

They are also about providing a place for people to see acts of goodwill in their communities.

When asked what the group meant to her, Rhia Rave Fae said it was "a safe haven to restore my faith in humanity".

"It's easy to feel alone and powerless," she said, "especially if you're isolated. Being able to offer people emotional support, share information, and even just swap ideas of how to pass the time has been life-changing.

"This group shows the good in people, and proves we can do amazing things when we come together."

And Valentina told the BBC she thought the success of the groups said something about Canadians in general.

"I think there is an international belief that Canada is a very polite country," she said. "And Canadians are so nice. I think there is something Canadian about this because as our population is small as a country, there is a tendency to look out for each other, even if there are a few bad apples who buy all the toilet paper!

"But I think this does highlight something about Canada - people look out for each other. It is unique."