On a weekend when many Canadians were getting themselves ready to weather the COVID-19 pandemic, Jennifer Teufel-Shatilla was figuring out how to help others do so.

Armed with hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes, she and her family travelled through their Burlington, Ont., neighbourhood distributing homemade flyers offering their free services to the many seniors and other vulnerable residents in their community.

Teufel-Shatilla said she, her husband, and their blended family of seven kids over the age of 13 are ready and willing to pick up groceries, drop off medication, or otherwise ensure that those isolated during the increasingly serious outbreak have what they need to get through the crisis in comfort.

“If my mom wasn’t local, or if I had somebody who was undergoing chemo or had suppressed immunity, I would hope that somebody would do that for somebody I love,” Teufel-Shatilla said in a telephone interview.

Teufel-Shatilla said she felt it was important to try and inject a little positivity into lives that have otherwise been consumed by the increasingly bleak news related to the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has all but brought everyday life to a halt as cases continue to mount.

The grim developments continued to pour in on Monday, with officials in British Columbia reporting an additional three deaths from the virus. The growing number of cases, which has eclipsed 400 nationwide, prompted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to close the Canadian border to all foreign nationals with the exception of U.S. citizens.

But amid the slew of disheartening headlines are scattered myriad posts from organizations and individuals trying to strike a more positive tone.

A Sobeys location in Edmonton garnered much praise when it briefly offered a dedicated, early-morning shopping hour reserved for seniors. Later posts indicated the approach had to be cancelled for reasons beyond the company’s control, but also thanked community members for supporting the idea and offering free rides to shoppers who required support.

Toronto-based author Catherine Hernandez began hosting a virtual story time for young children kept at home due to school and daycare closures, with the readings streamed via her Facebook page.

And in Montreal, a Facebook page set up by a group of local teenagers began offering babysitting services to parents unable to stay home with their children.

Group co-founder Taowa Munene-Tardif, 17, said the group originally consisted of past and present students drawn from the same high school. As word spread, however, he said dozens of would-be volunteers have since joined in.

He said the students are all observing public health protocols in their interactions with local families, adding the teens are all keen to contribute during an unusually stressful time.

“We figured, ‘well, we have time, why not do something positive,'” Munene-Tardif said. 

Trudeau advocated exactly such an approach on Monday during the address in which he announced the partial border closure. He urged Canadians to maintain safe contact with relatives, friends and neighbours to ensure everyone pulls through the outbreak.

“The strength of our country is our capacity to come together and care for each other, especially in times of need,” he said. “So call your friends. Check in with your family. Think of your community.”

One woman said her family has already benefited from the unsolicited kindness of strangers.

Isabel Jordan of Squamish, B.C., wasn’t actively asking for help when she started musing on a community Facebook group about the trouble that can ensue when people hoard hand sanitizer.

Three of her four family members have underlying lung conditions, and Jordan said she was simply commiserating about the challenge of replenishing her home’s supply at local stores that had been effectively cleaned out.

But Jordan said her post instantly prompted numerous offers of help, some from people she had never met.

Group members offered to scour nearby stores for new stock or top her family up from their own supplies.

“It’s nice to see people who are not as vulnerable understand that they have this health privilege,” she said. “Reaching out to help others is really heartening, because I don’t necessarily see that a lot.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 17, 2020