Coronavirus: Where to donate and how to help Canada’s most vulnerable

From donating vital protective gear to frontline workers to offering emotional support for local seniors, there are many ways you can give and get involved
Claire Sibonney
Resident Adeline Thrush, age 84, touches her window to acknowlege family and local residents showing up outside each afternoon to show caring and support for residents in isolation at a long term care centre in Calgary, Alberta on Apr. 2, 2020. (Larry MacDougal/CP)
Resident Adeline Thrush, age 84, touches her window to acknowlege family and local residents showing up outside each afternoon to show caring and support for residents in isolation at a long term care centre in Calgary, Alberta on Thursday, April 2, 2020. Ten residents have died and dozens of staff and residents are ill due to COVID-19 (Coronavirus) at the centre. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Larry MacDougal

The coronavirus pandemic is threatening everyone’s way of life but it is most harshly felt among some more than others—our frontline health care workers, the precariously employed and the most vulnerable people in our communities, like victims of abuse, families living in poverty, the elderly and people living with disabilities.

During this unprecedented time of social and physical isolation, every donation and act of kindness helps, so we’ve highlighted some of the best charities in Canada that are responding directly to the health, economic and social impacts of the outbreak.

While you’re doing your part, you can also make your voice heard by tapping your government representatives, who are the only ones who can provide large-scale relief to marginalized groups, including stimulus packages and rent-forgiveness.

MORE: Coronavirus in Canada: how to get tested, what the symptoms are, where to get help

Here are some ways to give back right now:

Where to donate money

A number of Canadian charities have reported a spike in demand for services, and are already feeling the pressure of the pandemic in supporting their individual communities. Canadian charities from the United Way to the Daily Bread Food Bank are urging the federal government for $10 billion in emergency funding so they can continue to help the most vulnerable people survive the COVID-19 crisis. Between layoffs in the sector, grants being cancelled and donations drying up, many charities wouldn’t be able to operate if it weren’t for private giving. You can donate directly to the pandemic response through multiple charitable campaigns that support health care and hospitals, food banks, mental health charities, vulnerable communities and international aid efforts.

Some of these organizations, such as CanadaHelps, are matching donations and supporting hundreds and thousands of local groups, as well as overseas efforts to aid international communities that have been hit the hardest.

CanadaHelps COVID-19 Healthcare and Hospital Fund

Canadian Red Cross COVID-19 Global Appeal

Food Banks Canada

Canadian Mental Health Association

United Way Centraid Canada

The Salvation Army in Canada

How to donate masks and equipment to frontline health workers

Like other countries around the world, Canada has been facing a critical shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical professionals working during the pandemic. According to CBC News, some major Toronto hospitals are already rationing surgical masks and asking nurses and other frontline staff to use one mask for an entire shift. There are similar cases of rationing measures reported in B.C. hospitals.

If you’re in the veterinary, dentistry, construction, salon, tattoo, dentistry or cosmetic industries (or even if you’ve painted your house recently), you might have access to this vital equipment that is in short supply across the country. To help doctors, nurses and other frontline health care workers with the scarcity of personal protective equipment (PPE), you can donate unused and unopened masks, gloves, gowns and eye protection to your local hospitals and medical offices, as well as midwives’ clinics. You contact them directly to find out where they are accepting drop-offs, or donate to one of the organizations below.

Sunnybrook Hospital

Michael Garron Hospital

Hamilton Health Sciences

Alberta Health Services

Vancouver Coastal Health

Operation Protect

How to help vulnerable kids

Kids’ mental health and the long-term impacts of the crisis is a rising concern during the pandemic. Kids Help Phone says it has seen a dramatic surge in calls—about 350 per cent—since the crisis hit Canada, and North American doctors are warning that more cases of child abuse could go unchecked.

Food insecurity among children is also expected to worsen during the crisis, especially among Indigenous and racialized households, according to Food Secure Canada, a coalition of national organizations working on hunger and sustainable food systems. Before the spread of coronavirus, it is estimated that more than one million Canadian children were affected by food insecurity. The Breakfast Club of Canada says at least five million dollars is needed to help alleviate the strain on families. It has started an emergency fund and campaign called #FeedKidsNow. Here are a few children’s organizations where you can donate or volunteer.

Breakfast Club of Canada

Kids Help Phone

Canadian Feed the Children


Canadian Centre for Child Protection


SOS Children’s Village

How to donate blood

Some good news: Canadian Blood Services says it’s seen a dramatic return of regular donors and a rise in first-time donors. The blood donation agency in March made a public plea after appointments were being cancelled en masse because of worries about coronavirus, and reassured Canadians that donating blood is still safe.

“Patients depend on these life-saving donations,” warned Dr. Isra Levy, Canadian Blood Services’ vice-president of medical affairs and innovation. “Every day they are needed for patients undergoing surgery and cancer treatment, as well as to save lives following traumas such as motor vehicle accidents.”

Eligible donors are urged to book their appointments online as clinics space out how many people can donate at a time. (Walk-ins are not allowed.) Security will monitor the entrances with hand sanitizer and taped sections on the floor to spread out the queue—and the chairs and beds are spaced out and cleaned after each use. Bonus: You’ll get some human contact, plus juice and cookies for your efforts. For more information, visit:

Canadian Blood Services

How to help provide food

The Daily Bread Food Bank, Canada’s largest group of food banks, has reported a 20 per cent increase in the need for it to run its services due to coronavirus, while it struggles with a dramatic shift in operations to get food to those in need. In some cities, there are also reports of up to a 50 per cent decline in donations.

As an emergency response, Food Banks Canada is launching a $150 million appeal to ensure that the country’s food banks have enough supply for the most vulnerable people in our communities. More than one million Canadians visited a food bank last year, and that number is expected to rise due to the economic fallout of the pandemic.

Here are some of the food banks and organizations across the country that are providing emergency food access during the crisis:

Food Banks Canada

Greater Vancouver Food Bank

Calgary Food Bank

Ottawa Food Bank

Leftovers Rescue Food

Daily Bread Food Bank

North York Harvest

Second Harvest

The Stop

Feed Nova Scotia

How to help women in need

Domestic abuse and violence against women has escalated during the pandemic. The Globe and Mail reports a rise in intimate partner and sexual violence in the aftermath of similar disasters, and there was a known spike in China’s domestic violence cases as a result of imposed coronavirus quarantines.

Canadian women’s shelters, sexual assault centres and community anti-violence programs are still operating during the pandemic but they are pleading for more resources as many face overcapacity.  You can donate to the following organizations or check your local shelters’ websites or social media to see what their specific needs are, including food, clothing, baby supplies, cleaning or hygiene products.

Women’s Shelters Canada

Canadian Women’s Foundation

Red Door Family Shelter

Kelowna Women’s Shelter

Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter

Medicine Hat Women’s Shelter Society

Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters

How to help those who are unemployed

About one-third of unemployed Canadians (862,000 people) will not qualify for financial support from employment insurance or the federal emergency benefit, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. While the federal government says it’s looking at ways to help people who have fallen through the cracks, it remains unclear what support will be available for those who lost their jobs before coronavirus, and students about to graduate. Donating to local employment services that train and connect potential job candidates with employers, and charities that help vulnerable individuals are some of the ways you can make a difference.

Youth Employment Services

CEE Centre for Young Black Professionals

Access Employment

Dress for Success

Zero Ceiling

Building Futures

How to provide social support for seniors

Seniors are among the most likely to have severe complications or die from COVID-19 infection, but loneliness is also a huge health risk, particularly for the elderly who have felt socially isolated long before the pandemic hit. Roger Wong, a clinical professor in geriatric medicine and advocate for the elderly at the University of British Columbia, says that while it’s crucial to keep seniors protected from coronavirus by staying away (and not asking them to babysit their grandchildren), that doesn’t mean cutting off contact. Reaching out to isolated older adults is crucial. Make regular phone and video calls, join a local “caregmongers”  group on Facebook or start your own community-based initiative like Letters Against Loneliness in Halifax. There are still creative ways to offer social support.

You may also need to drop off supplies to seniors living at home, or pay an in-person visit—from at least two metres away from the door. Also consider donating or volunteering to any of the organizations below.

Meals on Wheels

HelpAge Canada

Alzheimer Society of Canada

Calgary Seniors’ Resource Society

St. Michael’s Extended Care Society

Seniors First B.C.

How to help Indigenous communities

Indigenous leaders across Canada say federal funding won’t go far enough to help alleviate the COVID-19 crisis in their communities, and many are bracing themselves for the full impact of the pandemic as it spreads from urban centres. First Nations reserves need immediate funding for emergency supplies and planning for the transportation of people with health conditions. Consider donating to emergency food services like Kahnawake Shakotiia’takehnhas Community Services for the Mohawk community in Quebec, which recently launched a large food drive. Clean drinking water also remains a constant threat, and you can help by donating to the charities below, some of which assist Indigenous communities in solving their water challenges through education and training or collect essential supplies for isolated northern communities.

Water First

True North Aid

Native Women’s Association of Canada

Anishnawbe Health Foundation

Niijkiwendidaa Anishnaabekwewag Services Circle
Raven Trust
The Circle

How to assist the disabled

Advocates say people with physical and intellectual disabilities are being left behind in the response to the coronavirus outbreak and face extra barriers to information, social services and health care. People with disabilities living at home who rely on community-based social services are among the most vulnerable right now, as support workers don’t have the necessary personal protective equipment to minimize the spread of infection. You can assist people living with disabilities by seeking out local organizations such as the Society for Manitobans with Disabilities, which is providing COVID-19 resources, or national non-profits such as the CNIB Foundation, which has been expanding its virtual program offerings.

CNIB Foundation

March of Dimes Canada

Society for Manitobans with Disabilities

Variety – The Children’s Charity of Ontario

Disability Alliance B.C.

How to help local restaurants

After cities across Canada ordered the shuttering of restaurants to the public, every single bartender, server, host and nearly every member of kitchen staff instantly lost their regular income. The not-for-profit Restaurants Canada estimates that 800,000 people were laid off in the sector in March alone and one in 10 restaurants have already closed.  It’s also estimated that one in five restaurants, or 20 per cent, expect to shut down in a month if the situation doesn’t improve. You can help support your favourite local restaurants and their workers by ordering take-out—or better yet, getting contact-free delivery—buying gift cards, merchandise and products online. You can also donate directly to a local relief fund for restaurants, like the ones below.

Toronto Restaurant Workers Crisis Relief Fund

Feed the Frontlines

Van Food and Beverage Relief Fund

Montreal Restaurant Workers Relief Fund

Save Hospitality

How to donate to homeless shelters

Canadian cities with the highest rates of homelessness—including Vancouver, Calgary, Saskatoon and Toronto—have been struggling with overcapacity in shelters, but the onslaught of coronavirus cases and the need for new physical distancing measures have further created a homeless housing crisis. Around 230,000 Canadians experience homelessness each year, according to the national charity Raising the Roof, and those numbers are expected to jump due to the pandemic.

Those staying in cramped quarters at homeless shelters are the most at risk from coronavirus and developing complications due to COVID-19 as they may not be able to access traditional services and resources. Some municipal governments are leasing hotel rooms and convention centres to ease the crowding, but they still need essential supplies to protect their most vulnerable, many of whom suffer from existing health problems.

Contact your city’s local homeless shelters to find out how you can help, including donating supplies such as blankets, warm clothes, personal protective equipment, cleaning products and medications, or volunteering an extra pair of hands. You can also donate directly to the organizations below.

Covenant House Vancouver

Calgary Homeless Foundation

Homeward Trust Edmonton

Safe Harbour Society (Red Deer)

Good Shepherd Ministries

The Lighthouse Supported Living (Saskatoon)

Raising the Roof

How to help animals 

Canadian animal lovers have been heeding the call to foster and adopt pets amid the shuttering of animal shelters across the country, but activists say more animals need homes. While some organizations have paused all operations during the pandemic, there are many others still working and reportedly seeing a boost in demand to foster dogs and cats as Canadians look for company during self-isolation.

You can visit the organizations below to inquire about fostering or donate money to supporting animals in need.

Canadian Federation of Humane Societies

Canadian Disaster Animal Response Team

Animal Welfare Foundation of Canada

Rocky Mountain Animal Rescue

Second Chance Animal Rescue Society

Loved at Last Dog Rescue

Toronto Cat Rescue

How to give to Canadians in the arts

The coronavirus has been devastating to the Canadian arts community and local artists already struggling to get by on low wages as theatres, galleries and music venues have been forced to close.  However, from watching live concerts on social media, to crowd-funding and taking virtual lessons, there are many things you can do to help people in the arts survive the shutdown.

A new live concert series called #CanadaPerforms includes a short-term relief fund for artists affected by COVID-19. Artists and authors who are selected will receive $1,000 and their online performance and events will be announced and listed on the National Arts Council’s Facebook page. Other ways to help artists pay their rent? Participate in an online arts class, buy artwork from their sites, set up a commission or donate.

National Arts Centre

Toronto Arts Foundation

Akin Relief Fund

Arts Network Ottawa

Manitoba Arts Network

B.C. Alliance for Arts and Culture