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Pandemic forces Ottawa woman to choose between volunteer life and family

Realizing the threat of the virus, Dominique Paris-MacKay had to suspend her volunteer work at a food bank for fear of bringing COVID-19 into an assisted living home.
2021-07-20 dominique paris-mackay
Photo/ Dominique Paris-MacKay

An Ottawa woman is advocating for residents to become active members of their communities after a turbulent 15 months.

Dominique Paris-MacKay moved into a new neighbourhood in Ottawa in April of last year and immediately reached out to volunteer at the food bank in Rideau-Rockcliffe. By that time, the effects of the pandemic were being felt across the country. Volunteer contributions would be desperately needed as the demand for social services increased while challenges like limiting capacity for indoor spaces were imposed.

“In my lifetime I’ve always worked in community work, so I’m really familiar with the services that the sixteen community resource centres offer,” says Paris-MacKay.

“The food bank at Rideau-Rockcliffe had been closed for a bit, but when it reopened, they were extremely busy. There is just one person who acts as the coordinator and most of the workers volunteer.”

From helping clients check in, to adding special requests to food orders and directing people to community services, Paris-MacKay says it takes a small army to operate an organization like a food bank.

“I had a good sense of all these different jobs and what it takes to run a food bank, and I was quite impressed [with the team in Rideau-Rockcliffe]. It is a lot of work. It takes so much coordination and there is really not a lot of resources,” says Paris-MacKay.

“It takes a lot of manpower to do the work that is needed. If you are serving the clients, it is exhausting and it can be very physically demanding, but the food bank does its best to make volunteers feel welcome. The great thing is that clients are very nice and they’re so grateful for the help.”

Paris-MacKay says the companionship she feels with the other volunteers is always uplifting. Working with students on placement, social workers and people from all walks of life was the best part of her time at Rideau-Rockcliffe Food Bank.

With no shortage of jobs, Paris-MacKay was able to pivot from her role helping check-in clients to answering phones. However, her time with the food bank would abruptly end.

After falling ill, Paris-MacKay took leave from volunteering. She says she would have returned upon recovery, but it became clear that she would not be able to visit and continue caring for her mother at a nursing home if she continued volunteering at the food bank.

“It’s a big thing. You have to be tested twice and they check you every time you visit the nursing home,” says Paris-MacKay.

“There was a big break out of COVID-19 at the nursing home, so I thought, am I putting the people at the food bank in danger? Or the other way around? So, at that point I decided to stick with the one.”

Paris-MacKay focused her time on helping at her mother’s nursing home. After many of the nurses and other support staff fell ill with COVID-19, there was a strain on their staff, and they needed help from wherever they could find it.

Paris-MacKay says that after trying to balance both volunteer positions at the food bank and nursing home she grew exhausted and needed to step back for a break. Now, as the restrictions are being lifted and more services are opening again, she is looking forward to volunteering again in her community.

“I think it’s good, whatever you do, it feels good to contribute, and I really needed that. I needed to feel like I was doing something to help during such a difficult time. I do encourage folks to give locally and help out,” says Paris-MacKay.

“It gives you a unique perspective as to what people are going through and what the challenges are that people face in your community. You are given the training you’ll need, and it can lead you to other organizations you might not have known about.”

Volunteer Ottawa can help direct people to local organizations in need of volunteers on their website and information about donations for Rideau-Rockcliffe can be found on their site.

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