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In times of crisis, it is heartening to see people go beyond self, and think about others. In Dunedin, Age Concern Otago received an outpouring of support from hundreds of volunteers wanting to help them serve the needs of older people in the community.

Tristan Kavanagh, Social Connections Team Leader and Careerforce apprentice, said it was overwhelming to hear from so many who wanted to volunteer their time.

“When we started the lockdown, a lot of people started to contact us wanting to help in any way possible. My manager decided we would set up something like the volunteer army.”

“They called us because they were feeling really isolated during this time,” Tristan shared.

“The response was incredible! We received hundreds of emails and phone calls. We actually had to turn people away because we had such huge response and we still had our regular volunteers.”

The organisation had to work through how to deliver their services, with no physical contact between clients and volunteers. With those aged 65 and over advised to stay home, they were needing support with their grocery shopping. Age Concern had to make sure this was done safely and securely.

Tristan, who manages the Accredited Visitor Service, said that her regular volunteers were already busy. Even though they could not continue with face-to-face visits, they took the initiative to call their registered clients.

It became very evident that there were also people not connected to Age Concern yet who were needing support. “They called us because they were feeling really isolated during this time,” Tristan shared. “The volunteer army came in really handy and were able to connect with these people too.”

The volunteers also took over from their regular ‘Meals on Wheels’ drivers who were mostly over 70 years of age. “They had to step back, and our volunteers stepped up to deliver meals on wheels in the interim.” This is an every weekday service where drivers collect and deliver more than 200 hot, two course meals to their clients.

Many of the volunteer army have subsequently pledged their continuous commitment. “They said even if they are back to work, they are still happy to make those phone calls once a week to the older person. They want to continue on because they’ve struck up a friendship.”

Tristan Kavanagh, Age Concern Otago

Tristan Kavanagh is the Social Connections Team Leader at Age Concern Otago. She’s also upskilling, doing an apprenticeship with the support of Industry Training Organisation, Careerforce. She is working her way to achieve a Level 4 qualification in Health and Wellbeing (Community Facilitation). 

 We have heard some amazing stories and innovations that our employers, trainees and apprentices are doing during this crisis. We wanted to share some of these stories as we feel so privileged to be working with and supporting the essential workforce in the health and wellbeing sectors.