Gregor Sneddon reflects on COVID-19 and how HelpAge Canada has adapted over the past year.


Thursday, March 11, 2021


As we approach 1 year into COVID-19, what are the needs HelpAge Canada is experiencing. Has there been an increase in demand when it comes to your programs and services? 

On March 13th, HelpAge Canada pivoted our programming to become Canada’s first national responder to the COVID-19 pandemic for seniors. We launched a campaign raising over $500,000 for humanitarian relief for seniors across Canada. We disbursed funds through over 78 partners across Canada providing food, medicine, social support to seniors as well as PPE and safety products for staff and volunteers including 3,482 grocery hampers, and 13,181 hot meals. We also responded by providing 100 iPads to seniors in 20 communities across Canada with a digital literacy program called Seniors Can Connect! We provided 3-month hygiene kits to 1000 seniors in the conflict zone in Eastern Ukraine and provided an additional $21,000 in emergency relief to 18 partners in India, Sri-Lanka, Kenya, Jamaica, Haiti, Dominica and Lebanon. We provided 58 seniors with mobility and accessibility grants, as well as programming grants to 1,488 seniors to address isolation and loneliness through our Seniors Can! program and we are launching an intergenerational digital literacy program in south-western Nunavut providing tablets and digital literacy to 200 elders with 40 youth.


How has the outbreak of COVID-19 affected the people who HelpAge Canada supports over the last year? 

COVID-19 has revealed the chronic isolation and loneliness many seniors face every day. Marginalized and low-income seniors are particularly susceptible to isolation and loneliness and are the highest risk population for death from COVID-19. COVID-19 further isolated seniors due to the lockdown, not just preventing their access to food and medicine, but bringing to a halt the means to participate in community, to connect with family, to participate in a society where they can belong. The effects of long-term isolation and loneliness have critical health affects, even fatality. HelpAge Canada is privileged to support vulnerable older people through the pandemic with humanitarian support and providing the means to stay connected through providing access to technology and the digital literacy to navigate the digital world.


What did the issue or cause HelpAge Canada support look like before COVID-19? What was HelpAge Canada focused on and how has that changed? What does it look like now, 1 year later? 

Beginning in 2020, HelpAge Canada launched the Seniors Can! program providing mobility and communications equipment and programming and support for well being for low-income seniors. This program was overshadowed by the emergency relief programs we operated as well as the digital literacy programs. We continued to operate our international senior sponsorship programs in India, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Jamaica, Haiti and Dominica and we provided humanitarian relief to our partner agencies in these communities as well as the hygiene kit program in Eastern Ukraine. We also responded to support older people in Lebanon. We are expanding our national Seniors Can! grant program as well as our digital literacy work. One year later, HelpAge Canada has expanded at least three-fold and will be expanding our work in providing technology and digital literacy across Canada. We are launching a national seniors transportation project this year and continue to work with our international partners with large project with Global Affairs Canada in Ethiopia.


Have you had to adapt or transform the way you help people through programs or services? Is your team doing something new to address new and unique news from COVID-19?

One of the key developments that came out of COVID-19 was the ability to help older Canadians stay connected through technology. Working with many partners, we are providing low-income older people with tablets and providing senior-friendly digital literacy opportunities to help older people who did not grow up with technology feel confident in the digital world. This allows seniors to participate in community, access services and be connected with family and friends even while under lockdown during a pandemic.


What challenges has HelpAge Canada been facing in direct relation to the outbreak of COVID-19 1 year ago? Are you facing challenges reaching the communities you serve, raising funds, working in a digital and changing landscape? 

HelpAge Canada has been able to adapt quickly to the changes COVID-19 brought. Our staff were able to work from home and we made use of virtual technology to stay connected with partners and donors to not just continue our programs, but to expand rapidly and help older people all over the world.

~ Gregor Sneddon, Executive Director