News stories about stressed and anxious health-care workers prompted a Grade 11 student at St. Maurice School to organize care packages for workers at their local hospital.
Manjot Sawhney got the idea last December during history class when students were presenting news articles. "There were so many stories about mental health problems as people in health care struggled to deal with the pandemic," he said. "I wanted to do something for them."
The end result saw 100 care packages delivered to the urgent care staff at the Victoria General Hospital late in March, greeted with gratitude by the workers.
The journey to get there took longer.
Sawhney, who is a member of the 177 RCACS air cadet squadron, found out about the Duke of Edinburgh International Award - Canada’s grant program.
"The Passion to Purpose program grant, which is a partnership with the Duke of Edinburgh foundation and the Canada Service Corps, was something I thought I could apply for, so I discussed it with one of my teachers," he said.
He recruited six classmates — Ameen Hasso, Angel Okolie, Marvelous Adenika, Jessica Parmar, Alexander Chenilla and Gabrielle Villaflor — to work on the project, along with the help of school administration and teachers at St. Maurice, which is located at 1639 Pembina Hwy.
"My team and I ensured that the proposal for the grant was as detailed as possible, not only to be considered a competitive application, but to help ease the workload in the long-term, as well. It was the planning that we did early on which really helped the whole process work out smoothly and set us up for success in the upcoming months," he wrote in a report on the project.
The group ended up spending four months and more than 50 volunteer hours to make its idea a reality. It was awarded a $2,000 micro-grant from the Duke of Edinburgh's International Award - Canada.
The students contacted the Victoria Hospital to find out what health-care workers might like to see in a care package.
"We found out they want things that help distract them when they’re not working, things to help relieve the stress and pressure of going to work," Sawhney said.
Given the team’s aim to provide as many care packages as possible, it went shopping, looking for Canadian suppliers of bulk items, finding the best products to fit its modest budget.
"We made up 100 eight-by-11-by-12 inch boxes, and we tried to keep the contents gender-neutral, because we didn’t know who would be getting what," he said, adding the boxes contained a mug, lotion, chocolates, a candle and bath bombs. "We knew they didn’t want food items."
Every single box contained a personal thank-you card written by a student at the school, which featured a QR code linked to a video of students talking about their appreciation of health-care workers.
Finally, the day came to make the delivery, on March 25.
"The director of urgent care, Brent Becker, and a couple of nurses came out to meet us. We gave them the care packages and we chatted a bit, got some photos, but we knew they were needed at their jobs, so we kept it short," Sawhney said.
Along with buoying up the mental health state of the urgent care workers, Sawhney can also use the project toward community service hours with the aim of receiving a Duke of Edinburgh award himself.
"I’m a strong believer in community service," he said. "I see myself doing much more volunteer work in the future."
The Sou'wester community journalist
Susie Strachan is the community journalist for The Sou'wester. Susie got her first paying job as a journalist in the late '80s on the Free Press Weeklies, then followed that with 20 years as a reporter, photographer and specialty editor at the Winnipeg Free Press. She then spent 10 years working for WAVE magazine with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, before returning to her roots as the reporter/photographer for The Sou’wester.