a woman holding a canadian mental health water bottle, a man holding a box full of PPE masks
Friday, May 22 - 2020
Donna Paris

While we are encouraged to stay home as much as we can during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are many situations in which volunteers can make a difference. U of T Scarborough is no stranger to people who have stepped up in times of need. Here are just three examples of members of our community who have done just that.  

Mental Health Isn’t Taking a Break 

Even a pandemic won’t stop Judy Brunton from fundraising for the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). Judy works in the Centre for Teaching and Learning at the university, but she has also been fundraising with the CMHA – York and South Simcoe, for the past seven years, raising close to $90K. 

“To be honest, I feel awkward right now asking for donations – but no matter what’s going on in the world, the need for youth mental health programs and services doesn’t go away,” says Brunton. That’s why she is still focused on raising funds for MOBYSS, Ontario’s first and only mobile mental health clinic for youth 12 to 25 years old, which operates out of an RV. And she knows firsthand how this disease can change a young life; her sister was diagnosed with mental illness more than 25 years ago, when she was only 15 years old.  

Brunton’s strong point? She’s honest and upfront, asking friends and others who have sponsored her in the past for the annual Mental Health in Motion bike ride, which has since been cancelled for this year. “I don’t even know if people are still working, so I always start with ‘I’m uncomfortable asking, but if you do have a few dollars to donate, would you be willing?’” she says simply.  

In fact, Brunton says that youth are still suffering, and even worse now. “Because they’re upset, they’re in isolation, they miss their friends and all the milestones of school like graduation,” she says. “Or their home life in is chaos, or they don’t even have a home anymore.” That’s why Brunton wants to keep MOBYSS going, and that’s where most of the funds raised are directed now. “Even though they are working remotely, by phone, text and video chats, the youth can still reach out and get help,” she adds. 

Brunton says she just wants to get kids as much help as she can. “These are young people with their whole lives ahead of them,” she says. For more info or to donate, visit www.cmhainmotion.ca/JudyBruntonRocks. 

Making the Call: What Do You Need?  

When Saddaf Syed heard about the impact of Covid-19 on her community, she wanted to do something. Syed works with the Arts & Science Coop team at UTSC, but this past fall, she also graduated from the Translational Research Program, with a master’s degree from U of T, the Institute of Medical Sciences. She started doing research to find out what health care workers needed and reached out to doctors she knew at Michael Garron hospital to ask exactly that.  

The hospital jumped on the offer, putting out a challenge to have 1,000 masks made in a week. Syed was up for it and got the ball rolling with calls to a few friends, asking if they could help too. “I told them, ‘I really want to do this!’ and drummed up enough interest to get 25 women on board,” she says. “We raised funds, got supplies and began the mission.” With a few sleepless nights, a drive to make it happen and dedicated women wanting to make a difference, the mission began.  

Um, one problem, though. Syed isn’t actually a sewer. But when her mom came to visit from England, she bought her a sewing machine. That was 15 years ago. Syed dusted it off and got to work, making more than 70 masks herself. In a week, 1,000 masks were ready. 

“Stitching was never my thing, but I wanted to do everything, to make a difference,” she says. Using patterns sent by the hospital, she put her mind to it and got it done. “When I told my mom, she was thrilled that the sewing machine came in handy for a good cause!” 

Syed and a few friends collected the masks from the women and arranged for pickup from the hospital (the hospital would handle sanitizing the masks before use), and they received a huge thank you from the director. In addition to the masks, they also collected more than $300, which they donated to Lakeridge Health. “I was happy we were able to make a bit of a dent in helping others who are helping us,” she says. 

Dear Uncle, Please Send Masks 

UTSC student Changmiao Yu likes to help out whenever he can. That’s why he asked his uncle, a doctor in China, to mail boxes of new surgical masks to Toronto this past March. And his uncle was happy to help. Why? Well, it’s funny how things come full circle. Because back in January, Yu’s uncle had received donations for his hospital from Toronto. “My uncle is able to help Toronto now, to show his gratitude,” says Yu. 

Yu received 2,000 masks and, as a member of the UTSC Buddhist Student Association at the university, he was able to ask other members if they were able and willing to help distribute the masks to students and others who needed them the most.  

Yu isn’t new to volunteer work. When he lived in China, he would help out by tutoring children living in poor rural areas. “They had lots of questions, they’re so curious,” he says. So he tried his best to teach them things he knew to broaden their horizon, as well as getting outside to play some games with them.  

He’s not done making a difference in his world yet. Recently, Yu’s mom, who’s also big on volunteering, got a call from frontline healthcare workers, telling her that they needed fabric caps and hair coverings, as they had a shortage. So she got to work contacting tailors in Toronto to sew up caps, securing 10 tailors to sew them. And so, currently, Yu is busy raising funds for this project (about $2,000 so far), through postings on social media. The students have already delivered more than 300 caps, with each of them receiving a certificate of appreciation from the student association. And Yu estimates the money will be enough to make about 600 hats in total. 

“The workers really like them, as they are convenient and more comfortable than the disposable ones,” says Yu. “It’s not hard, it’s just something I can do to help my community,” he says. “I feel like my life is pretty meaningful right now, especially because helping others is a good thing.”