By: James Burrows

When you’re anxious there’s nothing better than hearing a friendly voice at the end of the phone.

That feeling of being connected to friends and the wider community is what Route’s new service, Friendly Calls, is trying to provide for residents who are feeling isolated during the pandemic.

Routes Connecting Communities is a not-for-profit based in Georgina that typically provides affordable transportation options – mostly through a network of volunteer drivers – for seniors and low-income residents who need to get to medical appointments, community events or grocery stores. But these aren’t typical times.

“What we were noticing is that the people we normally help are not using us right now because so many things have been cancelled,” said Routes Executive Director Danielle Koren, who’s recruiting some of her surplus volunteer drivers to do the phone calls.

According to Ms. Koren, the conversations between clients and their volunteer drivers often provide essential emotional support and a sense of connection to the community.

“Many of what we call ‘caring conversations’ along the way don’t take place right now. So there must be people out there who are isolated and lonely. So what we decided to do is take the caring conversation out of the car.”

Friendly Calls is staffed by pre-screened volunteers — many of whom are volunteer drivers matched up with their previous clients — and provides confidential conversations over the phone for those who request their service.

The service matches participants with volunteers who have similar hobbies and shared interests to make a personal connection a little bit easier.

“I’ve been a driver for 15 years, and I listen to a lot of stories,” said Sally Schentaube, 79, a volunteer driver for Routes.

“I know that there are people that are desperately lonely at the best of times. Some of my riders, the only time they get out is when they go for a medical appointment. People are used to a nice ride around the country, and that’s not happening.”

“So I think it’s really important to hear a friendly voice at the end of the phone.”

To receive a call, or if you’d like to volunteer, visit the Routes website at www.routescc.org/friendlycalls or call (905) 722-4616. Their office hours are Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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