JOHN DEMONT: Meet the ordinary volunteers who keep the pandemic at bay


I am a clumsy card hitter. Other than a brief time on Farmer’s milkshake mixing line, I have never been on an assembly line. Unlike my table mate Denis Ryan, I had never worked in an Irish bank, where I might have learned to sort quickly and accurately.

So I timidly started the brochures Thursday morning, counting them as if the numbers were new to me, loosing thread at the slightest distraction, piling up like my world was a little skewed.

In my defense, I had to dive into it. The incessant driving in downtown Halifax baffled me, so we arrived a few minutes late for our morning shift at the Halifax Regional Center for Education.

By then, they were already working hard to do God’s work: the 25 socially distant volunteers putting together COVID-19 rapid test kits for Nova Scotian children under 12 in the large upstairs room ; but also the seven people – four of whom wore merry Christmas hats – in the smaller room one floor lower, where the Irish-born musician and entrepreneur and I were led, like new recruits on the first day of work, this that we were.

Kym Purchase, a Newfoundlander who once worked in politics on Parliament Hill, directed us to a table and handed us a stack of folded brochures, simple instructions for users on what to do with them. rapid COVID test results.

Our task was just as rudimentary: count them in stacks of 15, then walk those stacks across the room to another table where other volunteers put the brochures, along with a pair of quick home tests, in a plastic bag.

On the outside, a sticker for the children’s program and another indicating the expiration date of the test. The bags are each packaged in boxes, screened quickly, and then placed in crates for shipping to schools across the province.

There was a sense of urgency in our work: before the start of the Thursday morning shift, 53,640 tests had been packed there, an astonishing figure in just two days.

At this rate, hitting the 160,000 test total by December 13th seems easy.

“The volunteers are absolute rock stars,” said Marianne Stanford, site manager, impressed with their performance.

The rapid testing program is the brainchild of Lisa Barrett, clinician and infectious disease specialist at Dalhousie University, and, aside from Dr. Robert Strang, the most recognizable face in our battle against the coronavirus.

When I interviewed her months ago, Barrett said that commitment, personally involving people in the fight rather than waiting for others to solve the problem, was the main reason we got on so well. fought against the pandemic.

The place where I was on Thursday was living proof.

As of April, 3,082 Nova Scotians have signed up for volunteer time slots in the province’s rapid test campaign, including 1,385 people assembling rapid test kits at smaller sites, making it, according to Stanford , the largest mobilization of volunteers of its kind in the country. .

Each of them has its own reasons and history. People like Ryan, a well-known supporter of good causes, making his first appearance there, who told me that “considering the time wasted over the years in wasted effort, it’s a no-brainer to devote a few hours to a great cause. “

But also, a table away, old friends Darlene Purdy and Barb Charteris who, as Christmas music floated from a solid-state radio, sat counting the plastic bags for the test kits, for “it” is just great to help “in the words of Purdy who has volunteered two or three times a week since launching the first version of the volunteer program in September.

At another table, Haligonian Pamela Crowell – who explained “I feel so lucky that we have free tests in the province I wanted to volunteer to help” – worked diligently alongside her mother Elaine Jones, another novice.

Across the table, his gray ponytail sticking out of his Christmas hat, Haligonian John Beans sat, as he does every day.

“I have grandchildren. I’m just trying to help, ”he told me. “When I see what is happening in other provinces, without the volunteers, none of this would have happened. It is important to do this.

Nearby, Charmaine Potter moved the stickers with the ease of a map-mounted merchant.

“This is my first time but it won’t be the last,” she said. The Bedford woman, passing through Antigonish, enjoys meeting new people and making new friends. “It’s just a beautiful day.”

Kym Purchase, who seemed to be perpetually on the move, also gets something from his presence. “When you have a situation like COVID, where it can be so overwhelming, there are a number of ways to go about it,” she told me. “You can take all the stress, or you can say, I’m going to be a part of what we’re going to do to protect us all.”

Helping is nothing new to her. The purchase was in Newfoundland during September 11, when so many people on The Rock came together to help airline passengers who were rerouted there. His hope is that in the future, when we return to some sort of normalcy, this is how we will remember the pandemic: as something horrible yes, but also as an event that brought us all together.

On Thursday, everywhere I walked, the mood was light, the feeling was of a shared goal. In our team, but also in the other rooms, where I saw a former colleague of the Chronicle Herald, and Ryan an old friend.

And especially upstairs where volunteers hammered their tables, a makeshift drumbeat, in anticipation of when Stanford was about to reveal the day’s results: a total of 9,360 new tests assembled and ready to go. books.

At the news, the room exploded. The hell of journalistic distance: me too.


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