Ontario University Students Assisting The Front Lines During COVID-19

Updated: Jul 25, 2021

While university communities have made a great impact for relief during this time, the need for help is far from over. Whether it is donating funds and supplies or volunteering, all efforts — big and small — will have a priceless impact on someone who needs it.

Authour: Juliane Feliciano

March 13th, 2020 was the last day of in-person classes in universities across Ontario as the province began to implement lockdown procedures during the first wave of COVID-19 [1]. As thousands of people across the country began to prepare for months of quarantine, nurses, doctors, and other healthcare professionals were called in to help battle the pandemic directly in hospitals, care centers and retirement homes. As the pandemic swept through the province, it brought thousands of people together to help combat and provide support to each other and those with critical needs. After witnessing the struggles of front-line health workers and the homeless during this pandemic, the Ontario university community decided to come together and form initiatives to assist those in need.

Healthcare professionals work long and tireless hours in increasingly busy hospitals to help care for COVID-19 patients. There were reports of a growing shortage of medical supplies; most notably personal protection equipment (PPE) — including gloves, masks, and other essential medical gear — to help protect frontline workers [2].

Unable to go to patient rounds because of the pandemic, MD students Ethan Lin, Jonathan Whelan, Cristina Adronic, and Kameela Alibhai from the University of Ottawa organized a student-led initiative to reach out to museums, dental offices, salons and other local businesses closed due to COVID-19 to donate PPE and medical supplies [2].

Many public services that were deemed non-essential were shut down due to social distancing efforts to decrease the spread as much as possible. As hospital demands quickly grew, thousands of healthcare workers began to work extended hours and found it difficult to care for their young children and pets [3]. Those who worked during the day and only got off during the evening found difficulties in buying essentials, such as groceries and medication since essential services would close early to sanitize. To combat this, McMaster MD student Mary Boulos founded the McMaster Healthcare Students COVID-19 Response Team, composed of volunteer healthcare students who provide services to frontline workers such as babysitting, pet-care, grocery services [3].

In COVID-19 hotspots such as Toronto, many of the city’s most vulnerable populations, who already did not readily have access to basic essentials, were put more at risk when shelter-in-place orders began, forcing them into shelters where social distancing is extremely difficult and demand for supplies increased [4]. University of Toronto MD students Karlee Searle and Aman Dhaliwal saw the growing need for services in women’s shelters, and began the COVID-19 Women’s Initiative to collect monetary and supply donations, and expand access to sexual and reproductive healthcare, crisis hotlines and other critical services [4]. A few streets away at Ryerson University, MBA student Brandon Arkinson diverted his focus to Toronto’s homeless population, and used his existing non-for-profit ‘Moving Hope’ organization in distributing donated essential basic and hygienic supplies to the homeless [5].

COVID-19 has taught us the importance of coming together to help support one another during difficult times, and that demand for non-profit initiatives helps give access to essential supplies and services to those who need it most. While university communities have made a great impact for relief during this time, the need for help is far from over. Whether it is donating funds and supplies or volunteering, all efforts — big and small — will have a priceless impact on someone who needs it.


Jasmine Kokkat, Mouayad Masalkhi, Rhea Verma


Web design by Majd Al-Aarg

Additional Credits

Cover Photo by Alex Mecl on Unsplash


  1. Nielsen K [Internet]. Toronto (ON): Global News; 2020. A timeline of the novel coronavirus in Ontario; 2020 Apr 24. Available: https://globalnews.ca/news/6859636/ontario-coronavirus-timeline/

  2. Huang C [Internet]. Ottawa (ON): University of Ottawa; 2020. uOttawa MD students pitch in to help frontline workers during COVID-19; 2020. Available: https://med.uottawa.ca/en/news/uottawa-md-students-pitch-help-frontline-health-workers-during-covid-19

  3. La Grassa J [Internet]. Windsor (ON): CBC News; 2020. Hamilton students babysit, run errands for local healthcare workers during COVID-19; 2020 Mar 18. Available: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/health-care-workers-child-care-errands-help-volunteer-1.5501430

  4. Parsons, C [Internet]. Toronto (ON): University of Toronto; 2020. Uof T Med Students Assist Women’s Shelters During COVID-19; 2020 Jun 16. Available: https://medicine.utoronto.ca/news/u-t-med-students-assist-womens-shelters-during-covid-19

  5. Bitti M [Internet]. Toronto (ON): Ryerson University; 2020. Delivering hope during a pandemic; 2020 Oct 6. Available: https://www.ryerson.ca/news-events/news/2020/10/delivering-hope-during-a-pandemic/

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