Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on Monday March 30, 2020.

It was almost three weeks ago that I last saw Jessie Simpson, my every Sunday afternoon buddy. We parted with him asking ‘What are we going to do next week when you come?’ and I answered, ‘We’ll find something fun.’

A few days later, just like that, the world that contains him and the other vulnerable people in that long-term care facility closed its doors. Then everything happened faster than anyone could predict and here we are, all hunkered at home and wondering what’s next.

It was in midst of this ongoing storm that has been turning our lives upside down that I learned of a new word, which in fact defines an entire concept: Caremongering. It’s the brightest silver lining yet, in our community and many others, made to happen by volunteers.

It’s been like a snowball rolling and growing, close to enveloping the whole city, I am told during a phone interview with the woman who started the Facebook page for Kamloops. AnnMarie Aase, a former world nomad who happened to be in Vietnam during the SARS outbreak and who four years ago decided to call Kamloops home, noticed the caremongering movement happening in other communities and thought of the next logical step: creating a Facebook hub for Kamloops.

During our phone chat we talk about why we love Kamloops, and why neither of us is surprised to see the ever-growing scale of this movement. Because ours is one of the most heartful communities there is and if there was ever a time when people in Kamloops needed to know we’re all in it together, this would be it, says AnnMarie. People’s reaction to the newly created Facebook page called Caremongering – Kamloops proved her right and then some. As of Sunday, there are almost 3,000 people who joined the virtual community.

Some ask for help and others offer to help. People post jokes and memes to lighten the mood, and then there is the never-ending string of messages of support for those who feel overwhelmed and discouraged; there is news being shared, hope and encouragement, all under the now trademark hashtags, #WeGotThisKamloops and #YKAstrong.

Humanity at its best; people helping people get through what many political analysts are calling one of the worst crises our global community has faced so far. ‘It’s not just individuals joining our group, but small local businesses, too,’ says Aase. The message: we are helping each other survive this pandemic, and we will survive it. She means it. Some say the pandemic will end in the summer, others say fall. Aase says, ‘Let’s keep positive and take it one week at a time.’

But what do you do with thousands of people, some offering help and others asking for help? It can get a bit overwhelming and organizing some of it can help match needs and offers of help. That’s where Gisela Ruckert, Kamloops resident and well-known dedicated volunteer with many local organizations, thought she could help. She put out a call for help with the logistics part and volunteers showed up.

That’s how the website was born, she explains. Its name, KamloopsCares.ca speaks for itself. The premise of the website, also volunteer-run and part of the Facebook Caremongering -Kamloops virtual hub, is straightforward: it’s a neighbour-to-neighbour system (N2N), in which those asking for help are matched with someone in the same area able to provide the help, whether it is grocery or miscellaneous errand runs, dog walking, household support, or anything else that someone might require assistance with. All of this is done without direct contact and with volunteers respecting the strict distancing and hygiene rules imposed by the public health agency.

The process is nothing short of extraordinary. The logistics team has created lists of people who signed up offering to help. Of those, there is a group of approximately 50 ‘neighbourhood captains’ who are being trained so that the process can start running by Monday, explain Ruckert. Captains are in charge of the volunteer helpers in their specific neighbourhood, coordinating and guiding and making sure that everything runs smoothly.

The magic of the volunteer-run caremongering movement here in Kamloops, both Facebook page and website, relies with each of us though. Whether you need a helping hand, or you have something to offer – a skill or an activity shared virtually, or make calls to someone in need, or directly but without direct contact, run errands, do sign up and see the magic unfold farther yet.

Aase is amazed at how quickly it all took flight and an ever-growing group of volunteers is running what could best be described as a beacon of hope for the community. But, she says, ‘I am looking forward to the day when we can take the Facebook page down, because that will mean this crisis will be behind us.’

Saying thank you to these amazing people for putting their heart and time into it may not seem enough, but then again, it’s not about that. It’s about all of us doing what we can for each other; paying it forward. That is how it’s done around these parts. And we can do that by signing up to help at KamloopsCares.ca or joining Caremongering – Kamloops Facebook page. See you there!