It was a grassroots initiative to help keep health care workers safe during the early days of the pandemic. Now, organizers with Conquer COVID-19 say they are wrapping up operations.
“We did not imagine it would grow to this level,” Sulemaan Ahmed, co-founder and CEO of Conquer COVID-19, said. “In the middle of a pandemic, Canadians generously donated so much PPE and money when they didn’t have to, so that’s a credit to the country.”
Over five months, Conquer COVID-19 distributed more than 3 million items of PPE and raised more than two million dollars in fundraising. Items were delivered to more than 410 sites, ranging from hospitals to long-term care facilities and homeless shelters.
“I remember when we delivered the PPE we had 10 boxes of N-95 masks, and the nurses came running out to get them,” Sulemaan said. “And they said we had doubled their count. One of the nurses, he said to me, you know this is more valuable than gold.”
Back in March, fears began to grow over Canada’s supply chain and its ability to provide the PPE needed to keep front line health care workers. That’s when Ahmed and others decided to spring into action.
“We wanted to create a Tinder for PPE,” Ahmed said. “So we started off with just baby monitors, getting them to doctors. One of the doctors said if we got them they could use them to communicate with patients and that would help with burning through their PPE supplies.”
Soon, what started as a conversation among a group of friends had become a national movement.
“Hailey Wickenheiser and Ryan Reynolds got on board, and then things kind of accelerated,” Ahmed said. “We grew from six people to 120 across the country, so from Newfoundland to B.C. to the Northwest Territories.”
While he gets a lot of praise for creating what ended up becoming one of the largest community-led responses to COVID-19, Ahmed insists the credit should go to those who put their lives on the line every day to help the country’s most vulnerable people.
“The real front line workers are the people who deserve the credit. We were, as one of my colleagues mentioned, we were like the pizza delivery drivers. We were just getting the PPE to them. That’s our job.”