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Oak Bay volunteers keep critical services running

Duo drove between Oak Bay and Jubilee three days a week, twice a day during pandemic
Shaelyn Sinnott of Oak Bay Volunteer Services delivers groceries for client Irene Kenny. The organization has kept up delivery of food and medication throughout all phases of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Courtesy Oak Bay Volunteer Services)

Paul Gendron is pretty happy with the freedom his new car brings. A fairly recent purchase, it gets him to dialysis and he doesn’t have to rely on someone else – as he did during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Oak Bay Volunteer Services Society set the rides up, leaving the patient worry free.

“Gordon was really committed and I felt very secure. I could always count on him,” Gendron said.

The driver, Gordon Alexander, has a tendency to save stuff. When the pandemic started, he happened to have an extra shower curtain that he hung between the front and back seats of his minivan creating a simple, but effective, separation.

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When the opportunity came along to drive someone on a regular basis for 10-minute trips, it sounded ideal. Turned out he knew Gendron, who had been a tenant years before. He remembered Gendron as a fine, modest and thoughtful guy, who it seems needed a little help through some profound health limitations.

“I knew his character, I knew his need through the volunteers. It was somewhat personal as well as just a more general service to the community,” Alexander said.

Three days a week, twice a day, the pair drove between Oak Bay and Royal Jubilee Hospital so Gendron could get dialysis.

“What would stand out for me is how the cumulative effect of a small action on my part, could have a major impact on somebody else’s life,” Alexander said.

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Alexander, a 16-year volunteer with Oak Bay Volunteer Services Society, is among the many unpaid essential workers of the pandemic, said Renee Lorme-Gulbrandsen, society executive director.

With connections in other parts of North America and the world, Lorme-Gulbrandsen had indications something serious may be on the way. She sent out letters in early 2020 alerting clients and volunteers.

“My planning started in February before the pandemic even hit the community,” she said. Volunteers put plans in place for the roster of clients who didn’t have family and friends around, and would need extra care. They shifted modes to critical services such as shopping and delivery of groceries and medication. They embarked on wellness calls and watched for mental health concerns.

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“Thousands of volunteers in the community were still supporting people, not being paid for it, but supporting people because it was important,” Lorme-Gulbrandsen said.

While some volunteers took hiatus for a variety of safety reasons there was a jump in the 55 and younger category. Fifty new volunteers signed up when workers and students started working from home.

Anyone looking to add to that roster can visit

Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

I'm dedicated to serving the community of Oak Bay as a senior journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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