Emmanuelle Meyer was at the store, and the cashier was afraid to touch her grocery bags for fear of catching COVID-19. The cashier was afraid of people and the virus, and her anxiety kept her awake at night. It broke Meyer’s heart. “It was so unfair,” says the broker with Royal LePage Realty Plus Oakville in Oakville, Ont.
She knew many people were not thriving during the pandemic and had mental health issues. Between Zoom interactions and conversations with neighbours or clients, she knew a lot of people were struggling, convinced that there was no light at the end of the tunnel. And suicides were increasing. Meyer says she felt she had to do something.
At the beginning of November, she began reaching out to professionals and business owners in her network, determined to shine the light on mental health issues in the community and raise funds to lend support. She also wanted to deliver a message of hope and optimism.
She says she couldn’t believe her luck – when she talked about her idea, people simply said, “I’m in.”
She and 11 like-minded professionals began their journey to create a non-profit organization to raise funds and let those who are “feeling sad, anxious and depressed know our community cares,” she says.
A diverse mix of professionals pulled together to get the job done. The team includes a publisher, wellness coach, graphic designer, professional writer, chef, photographer, master organizer, accountant, banking professional and business owners.
Amanda DaCosta, who has 15 years of experience in the mental health and addictions sector, researched charities and came up with Crisis Outreach and Support Team (COAST Halton), which provides 24/7 mobile support to individuals in crisis. COAST staff and Halton Regional Police Service officers trained in mental health and crisis intervention team up to provide immediate outreach and support. COAST is funded by the Canadian Mental Health Association of Halton.
Web designer Jessica Hirst created the logos and branding and came up with the name for the new group, Camaraderie of Hope, Meyer says.
It was a scramble – the group’s first idea was to sell gift baskets designed by French chef Guy Dongue for Christmas. The chef had to put 110 baskets together quickly and worked up to the last minute. It took four days to finalize and package.
The designer created cards and stickers and a printer printed them for free. Michael Walker delivered the baskets for $10 each, then donated the delivery fee to COAST.
“It’s the community helping the community,” says Meyer.
Camaraderie of Hope gift basket sales raised $6,500, says Meyer, who was born in Canada and raised in France. She moved back to Canada in 2011 and started her real estate career in 2013. She is now a broker.
“Everything worked out quickly and so well. The true goal is to keep the light in people’s hearts,” she says.
Elizabeth Peters, broker of record at Royal LePage Realty Plus Oakville says, “We have all struggled with challenges related to the pandemic but some people are desperate for help and do not know where to turn. The work that Emmanuelle Meyer and the team at Camaraderie of Hope do is immeasurably valuable. Their dedication is essential to the community not only during these times, but always. They bring ideas, positive energy and a beautiful intensity to their passion to help.”
The group is now considering next steps. “We don’t want to stop spreading the love.”
Plans are to launch a campaign “towards love and Valentine’s Day, then we will be looking for partnerships within the community.”
“We are continuing to spread the light and to let people know if they reach out, someone will be there.”
For those in need of support, the COAST crisis line at 1-877-825-9011 is manned 24/7 by trained mental health crisis workers. COAST received more than 100 calls from people in crisis related to the pandemic since June, says Peters. “People need to know that someone cares.”