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These Ontarians Have Gone Above & Beyond During The Pandemic

Celebrating our unsung heroes.
These Ontarians Have Gone Above & Beyond During The Pandemic

COVID-19 has revealed some unexpected heroes who are doing their part to help; everyday citizens caring for their communities in unique ways, whether it's a friend who sews masks, a neighbour who volunteers, or a family member who works on the frontline.

These unsung heroes serve as powerful examples of how to make a positive difference in the world.

To give these individuals some of the recognition they deserve, RBC launched the Best Seats in the House contest at the RBC Lakeside Drive-In at Ontario Place during the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

It offered an exclusive experience and special night out for those whose efforts have helped keep us safe in recent months.

In September, Canadians were encouraged to nominate friends, family members, and neighbours who deserved a hard-earned night off during one of the most anticipated events in the city: TIFF.

You voted for your community heroes by sharing their stories, and a few well-deserving nominees won tickets to the RBC Lakeside Drive-in at Ontario Place during the festival's final weekend.

These heroes received first-class viewings of world premieres and Canadian features at the socially distanced drive-in experience.

The event included live performances ahead of each premiere by thriving new artists involved with the First Up with RBCxMusic program.

As part of TIFF's unique 2020 circumstances, the focus shifted from glitz and glamour to spotlighting community heroes, amplifying rising talent, and bringing people together in new ways.

Meet Our Community Heroes

Nina Gholizadeh, who was nominated by her community and won tickets to a TIFF screening through the RBCxTIFF Best Seats in the House contest, is a recent graduate of the Social Work Services program at Seneca College. When the pandemic started, she responded by volunteering her time to deliver food to shelters across Toronto for Kitchen24 and has since created Greater Together Toronto, making care kits for people living on the streets. 

[rebelmouse-image 25999214 photo_credit="RBC" expand=1 original_size="2560x1440"] RBC

Vera Lyn has been a Toronto police officer for 13 years and now works as a detective to help find missing people. She enjoyed exclusive access to TIFF with RBC because her community recognized her as a local COVID hero. In her spare time, she sews face masks for Michael Garron Hospital and, with her sister, Verna, runs an all-female mask-making volunteer group called Sixsewess. So far, they've donated more than 3,500 masks to MGH and to shelters in Toronto and continue to make more. 

Susan Hu, a registered nurse at SickKids, also enjoyed a special night out and memorable experience with RBC and TIFF. She's been working tirelessly on the frontlines to keep everyone safe since the pandemic started.

Cameron Michael Caton (aka COVID-Elvis) — who was nominated by people in his Hamilton community and invited by RBC for a memorable night out at TIFF — is an Elvis impersonator and vocal entertainer who has been performing for retirement, assisted living, and LTC facilities for the past 14 years. Like many entertainers, he'd been shut down as a result of the pandemic. He turned that around, however, by doing surprise Elvis driveway social distancing birthdays, street serenades, anniversaries, and everything in between, all while collecting non-perishables for people in need.

[rebelmouse-image 25999215 photo_credit="COVID-Elvis" expand=1 original_size="2048x1418"] COVID-Elvis

In this exclusive interview with Narcity, Nina, Vera, Susan, and Cameron discuss their unique, compelling stories and how they've gone above and beyond for their communities. 

Questions and responses have been edited for clarity.

How has the pandemic affected what you do?

Susan: One challenge I’ve found in my work environment is patient interaction. It can be quite scary for little ones to have masked strangers come in and out of their rooms all day. SickKids recognized that and started a staff button initiative where we wear big buttons with our smiling faces on our lanyards to make hospitalization a little less scary during the pandemic. On top of that, non-verbal interactions can also be challenging. We’ve all been practicing smiling with our eyes.

Nina: The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected the state of individuals who are experiencing homelessness in Toronto, leading to a higher demand in shelter usage which cannot be accommodated due to lack of funding and resources. As a result, social service, community, and outreach workers are in demand now more than ever. Individuals who are experiencing homelessness are having a harder time maintaining their health due to a shortage of personal protective equipment and the inability to practice proper social distancing guidelines. 

Give us an example of what your typical day might have looked like before and during the lockdown.

Nina: Greater Together Toronto was created to help out individuals who are experiencing homelessness during and after the COVID-19 lockdown. A typical day on the job consists of picking up donations from folks in our communities, packing them into specialized care packages, and delivering them to individuals who are experiencing homelessness. During delivery runs, our interactions with individuals follow a harm-reduction and trauma-informed approach that follows COVID-19 safety guidelines.

The care packages do not provide proper health care, but they certainly help protect people experiencing homelessness from the pandemic and extreme hunger for a short amount of time. I ask everyone who is safely isolating at home, please donate to shelters and organizations if you can. Keep in mind that anyone can experience homelessness or be at risk of experiencing homelessness, specifically during tough times like this.

Vera: Before lockdown, I exercised more. I arrived at work two hours early to run on the treadmill, shower, and dress in uniform. I worked ten-hour shifts. After work, I commuted in traffic like everyone else. I had a routine. After lockdown, I used my time to sew face masks before and after work. I also connected with my volunteer sewing group, Sixsewess, to deliver materials to sewists and completed face masks to hospitals and shelters.

[rebelmouse-image 25999216 photo_credit="RBC" expand=1 original_size="1401x2176"] RBC

What inspired you to step up during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Susan: I work with an amazing team of individuals on 4D Cardiology at SickKids who work tirelessly every day to keep our patients and staff safe. Seeing them step up day in and day out keeps me going.

Cameron: COVID-Elvis was not pre-planned. It simply evolved organically after I performed a driveway concert as Elvis for an 80th birthday in March. Since then, close to 30,000 pounds of non-perishable food donations have been generated from COVID-Elvis appearances, donated to 26 different food banks and organizations. We have also donated 50 cinch bags with an estimated $10,000 of basic human essentials to two different women's shelters.

[rebelmouse-image 25999217 photo_credit="COVID-Elvis" expand=1 original_size="1536x2048"] COVID-Elvis

What’s one thing the pandemic has taught you?

Nina: The pandemic has taught me a lot. One of the many things that I have learned is that, when it comes to tough times like this, people do come together and show up for one another. The more people help and show up for one another during times like this, the easier it is going to be for all of us to get through this pandemic. 

Vera: Community health is important. Community health focuses on people and their role as determinants of their own and other people’s health. I learned that we have to work together to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and keep each other healthy and safe.

What do you do to deal with the stressors that come along with the current situation?

Susan: I still make time to do things that help me relax and recharge. I definitely also went through a banana bread-baking phase. 

Nina: Lots and lots of meditation and grounding practices. Exercising at home, eating healthy, spending time with my dog, my family, and my boyfriend, and therapy.

Though the pandemic has caused much chaos, initiatives like the RBCxTIFF contest shed light on the positives that have somehow emerged from these trying times. Our community heroes deserve a little TLC and many thanks, so let's continue to show them support!

For more information about RBC’s long-standing support for TIFF, visit the RBC website and check them out on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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