'Caremongering' through the COVID-19 pandemic comes easily to Canada's cannabis community

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Thaomy Lam’s daily walks are incomplete without her ritual. Every time she steps outside to get some fresh air, the 27-year-old has been handing out grocery store gift cards of $25 value.

“We’ve seen the toilet paper fight, the empty shelves, and it was honestly scaring me, too,” says Lam, who is as an events manager at cannabis retail chain Superette. “I realized that I can control my reaction through my actions. I am lucky enough to be able to work from home and buy enough groceries to last a full week. Flashback to when I was five years old, my parents definitely could have not afforded to stockpile.”

So far, Lam has handed out 500 gift cards from Shoppers Drug Mart and Loblaws. Earlier in March, she also bought two dozen children’s books and left it at the concierge for interested parents to take. “Growing up very poor in low-income Edmonton and having to use resources like the food bank, I always wanted to pass on the kindness I received.”

Lam is not alone. With panic over COVID-19 panic at an all-time high, she’s one of a growing number of Canadians who are taking on the role of “caremongers” — the opposite of scaremongering —  and helping spread kindness instead of panic.

“I grew up not being able to afford pizza lunches or those little single-serving milk or a book at fairs,” says Lam, adding, “I understand how it is hard to communicate that you need a helping hand. Offering before even asked can go a long way.” 

Community unites for a common cause

Unity Whittaker was supposed to dog-sit for her friend John Buffery in Nelson. B.C. until this Saturday while he and his friends went on a remote mountain climbing excursion in Japan.

Following the World Health Organization’s announcement that the coronavirus has become a global pandemic, Whittaker felt the panic rise as the travellers made their way back home. “For hours at the airport, they were in close quarters with others arriving from all over the world. I felt frightened. When I say frightened, I mean it felt very real,” says Whittaker, who works for Vancouver-based Village Bloomery, a cannabis retail store.

As Vancouver-based Unity Whittaker prepared for her friends’ arrival from an international trip, she got the house ready for self-isolation by generously stocking up the fridge. Photo provided

Rather than give in to fear, she strategically prepared for their return. “I deep cleaned the home, filled up the cupboards and fridge for two-week isolation,” says Whittaker. She then moved out of the house leaving behind instructions to “wash your hands, not to bring the luggage inside, leave it in the car… I have clean clothes ready for you.”

Others came forward to help Whittaker as she looked to relocate. With work a nine-hour drive away, it made little sense to drive back on such short notice. “My friend Janeen Davis, (director of business development at BC Cannabis Group Inc.), welcomed me into her home. In fact, everyone has been very supportive in Nelson. I had two offers of homes to go to last night.”

Whittaker, on her part, continues to give back. “Every morning I’ve been coming to grocery stores when they open and getting essentials like toilet paper and oat milk for a single mother who is in the process of losing her cannabis job,” she says.

Making connections through social media

Many Canadians are using online communities of “caremongers” to lift morale.

“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,” BBC reported earlier this week.

Andrea Dobbs, co-founder of Village Bloomery, Dobbs initiated a two-day day paid sick leave “so that employees can stay home without any worry to determine whether or not they are feeling ill.”

“My daughter is doing astro charts online and connecting with people through social media,” says Andrea Dobbs, co-founder of Village Bloomery.

Mental health is a priority, she is taking extra measures to help staff stay calm.

For those worried about falling sick, Dobbs initiated a two-day day paid sick leave.

“We did this so that they can stay home without any worry to determine whether or not they are feeling ill,” she says. “So far we’ve only had one person take us up on that but it was very effective. Once she got the day to rest and calm down she was feeling much better. Stress is a big one so we are having daily huddles and encouraging everyone to share their concerns,” she says.

While helping the elderly relatives, Maxim Zavet, chief executive officer at Toronto-based cannabis brand Robes Inc., has been offering virtual support for colleagues and peers. He says, “I’ve been able to help some older relatives with groceries and taking calls from fellow friends and business owners who just want to vent and talk. Help can come from just having a connection and meaningful uplifting conversations with people.”

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