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McGillians step up during pandemic

ook no further than your alma mater for heartwarming stories of McGillians stepping up to help during the global health crisis. Our alumni have been sharing some of those stories through #McGillStepsUp.

Story by McGill News

April 2020

There’s lots of distressing news during the pandemic, but fortunately tales of good deeds abound.

Look no further than your alma mater for heartwarming stories of McGillians stepping up to help during the global health crisis. Our alumni have been sharing some of those stories through #McGillStepsUp.

Here is just a sampling of how the McGill community is making a difference:

Check out these shopping heroes… at the check out

Your typical superhero wears a cape, a mask and has superpowers. These heroes generally only wear masks and their superpowers are mostly limited to supermarkets where they do the grocery shopping for frontline healthcare workers.

The volunteer group is called GroceryHero and was devised by five friends in Toronto – including two McGill alumni (Max Seltzer, BA’16, and Elliott Charbonneau, BCom’15) – who were looking for a way to support healthcare workers in a time of crisis.

In talking to friends who worked in hospitals, they discovered that finding the time and means to buy groceries was particularly difficult. Delivery services are often oversubscribed and many healthcare professionals are reluctant to go into stores and expose the public to possible infection.

“We felt like this was something we could potentially solve,” says Seltzer, a management consultant at Deloitte in Toronto.

The result is a deceptively simple idea which uses a web platform to match healthcare workers with grocery shopping volunteers. Volunteers sign up using their postal code and are matched with medical professionals in their neighbourhood. Once a match is found, the two get in touch directly to discuss shopping needs, drop off, and payment directly. Delivery is free.

Now just one month old, GroceryHero has 5,600 signups across Canada and has made 1,500 matches – most of which are within one kilometre of each other. From a professional perspective, Seltzer and his friends have learned how to scale an idea into reality in a very short space of time. From a personal perspective, GroceryHero means much more.

“It’s rewarding to feel like you’re making a difference,” says Seltzer. “My sister is a nurse in Montreal so this is very personal to me.”

From the offensive line to COVID-19 front lines

Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive guard and Super Bowl champion Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, MDCM’18, hasn’t done his medical residency yet. But during the pandemic, Duvernay-Tardif has spread the Quebec government’s message about the need for social distancing and is now helping out in a long-term care facility.

“We all must come together, even if that means stepping out of our comfort zone,” Dr. Duvernay-Tardif tweeted on Wednesday. “Let’s keep working as a team, we’ll get through this.”

He isn’t the only famous McGill medical alum/sports celebrity to respond to the urgent appeal to assist Montreal’s beleaguered long-term care facilities. Joannie Rochette, an Olympic bronze medalist in figure skating in 2010, recently completed her McGill medical studies and volunteered her services. Quebec premier François Legault made a point of thanking the two McGillians on Twitter and during one of his regular press conferences.

McGill grads part of the team that isolated the virus that causes COVID-19 

Kudos to McGill alums Dr. Rob Kozak, BSc’04, PhD’11, and Dr. Samira Mubareka, MedResident’02,  part of a research team that isolated severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus behind the pandemic. Kozak is a clinical microbiologist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. Mubareka is a microbiologist and infectious diseases physician at Sunnybrook.

The isolated virus “will help researchers in Canada and across the world develop better diagnostic testing, treatments and vaccines, and gain a better understanding of SARS-CoV-2 biology, evolution and clinical shedding,” Sunnybrook noted in a press release. It also means the live virus does not need to be shipped across borders for use in research.

McGill students lend a hand to seniors

Even small gestures make a big difference, like the touching note a McGill student left for her neighbour who is housebound because of the pandemic.

“She slipped a note under my door asking if I was OK and she offered to pick up groceries for me, which she has been doing faithfully for the past month,” a senior named Joan wrote about her neighbour Kai, a Desautels Faculty of Management student. “I wanted to find a way to recognize her contribution in making this time easier for the community. She is to be commended for her actions. I know a number of McGill students have been active in supporting seniors and others in need.”

Mac Campus donates food, medical supplies and spring flowers

McGill’s tight-knit Macdonald Campus community has also leapt into action.

Anja Geitmann, dean of the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, told alumni how the abrupt province-wide shutdown meant the Southam Food Preparation Laboratory (primarily used by dietetics and human nutrition students) had kilograms of food purchased for upcoming lab classes. To avoid wasting it, food and nutrition laboratories manager Paul-Guy Duhamel, BSc(NutrSc)’91, provided bags of perishable food – from kale, tomatoes, eggs and cheese to ground beef, bananas, onions and potatoes – to Chez Doris, a women’s shelter in downtown Montreal.

Researchers at Mac Campus responded quickly to a call from the Quebec government, donating 33 boxes of equipment such as masks (surgical and N95), gloves, hand sanitizer, caps, gowns, lab coats, coveralls and visors to the province’s healthcare workers.

And the Department of Plant Science brought some cheer to a suburban Montreal seniors’ residence by donating bouquets of Easter flowers grown by students.

McGill student teams with community group to offer mental health support 

Over the past year, Vincent Brissette, a second-year McGill medical student, has been volunteering with Head & Hands, a Montreal-based organization that promotes physical and mental health for at-risk youth.

When the coronavirus pandemic began, Vincent and the team at Head & Hands knew that at-risk youth and other marginalized populations would be faced with yet a new set of challenges.

In response, they developed resources for marginalized populations and created a referral service for those in crisis.

‘Our way of saying thank you’ to frontline healthcare staff

At the beginning of March, Jordana Serero, Olivier Del Corpo, and Melissa Vitagliano were typical third-year McGill medical students doing their clinical rotations at local hospitals.

Their rotations soon came to an abrupt end when Quebec began locking down to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

The trio wondered how they could support the colleagues they had just been working with at hospitals. The answer was prepared meals. The med students, who have been helped by classmates with the project, decided to deliver fresh meals to hospital workers, healthcare professionals, custodians and administrative staff – “anyone who is exposed and working on the frontlines,” says Serero. “It is our way of saying ‘thank you.’”

Their initiative, MerciMeals MTL, is also helping local restaurants, which have been suffering from the pandemic’s economic fallout.

“The reason why we want to raise funds is to be able to purchase meals,” says Serero. “Restaurants have lost an incredible amount of business, so we didn’t want to ask for donations. We want to support healthcare workers while supporting our neighbourhood restaurants as well.”

The students initially aimed to raise $20,000 on their GoFundMe page. To date, donations exceed $45,000.

A support system for medical professionals stressed for time

About a month ago, another group of students from the Faculty of Medicine launched the Montreal COVID-19 Student Support Initiative (CSSI), recruiting Montreal-area university students (principally in health-related programs) to lend a helping hand to medical professionals who are feeling especially harried right now.

According to Adamo Donovan, a doctoral student in experimental medicine at McGill (and one of CSSI’s organizers along with McGill medical students Anne Xuan-Lan Nguyen, Zoe O’Neill and Laura Pinkham), the group has successfully matched more than 60 healthcare workers with student volunteers who pick up groceries, run errands or look after pets.

“Our most frequently requested service is childcare,” says Donovan. About 60 per cent of the healthcare workers who turn to the CSSI are hoping to find some help in looking after their kids.

The CSSI is also collaborating with the McGill University Research Centre for Studies in Aging, which was looking for volunteers who could call up consenting individuals with mild cognitive impairments or early dementia and who live alone. So far, 12 volunteers have signed up for that duty.

Helping small businesses bounce back after the pandemic 

Students in the Desautels Faculty of Management’s Master of Management in Analytics program are offering consultation help to small and medium-sized businesses in Montreal to help them recover from pandemic shutdowns once the economy and stores start opening up again.

Volunteers from the MMA program have offered up to 100 hours of consultation and will use data analytics to help businesses develop strategies for bringing customers back, taking the down-time now to plan for the post-COVID-19 economy.

We invite you to share with us stories of McGillians who are doing wonderful things – big and small – to help their neighbours, their community and the world. Contact us at aoc@mcgill.ca.

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