South Riverdale CHC launches program to connect clients with cell phones during COVID-19 crisis

Leslieville-based organization working to ‘bridge the digital divide’ and help 1,500 get a fully functional phone or tablet

Not being able to afford a mobile device shouldn’t be a reason why someone can’t access healthcare and other vital supports and services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With more than half of its clients living on less than $25,000 a year, the South Riverdale Community Health Centre (SRCHC) experienced this reality first-hand recently when one under housed individual who makes use of the community-based organization’s harm reduction services at Moss Park exhibited symptoms of COVID-19 and was sent for testing at a nearby assessment centre at St. Michael’s Hospital.

But without a cell phone, there was no direct way for the hospital to contact this individual to discuss their test results. Fortunately, staff at SRCHC had a good relationship with this person and were able to locate the individual to discuss healthcare needs.

This all-too-common situation is what inspired SRCHC, which serves those living in an area roughly bounded by Lake Shore Boulevard East to O’Connor Drive and from Coxwell Avenue to the Don Valley Parkway, to recently reach out to technology partner QoC Health for some cell phone donations. That organization’s CEO, Sarah Sharpe, suggested SRCHC launch a device drive and offered their expertise to staff members so they can scrub any information from donated devices.

Launched just over two weeks ago, the #DeviceDrive is aiming to immediately collect and distribute 1,500 new or used activated cell phones/tablets with chargers for its highest-priority clients, those who are most at risk for complications from COVID-19. These devices will allow marginalized and socially disconnected clients to attend virtual medical appointments, receive COVID test results, access group-based programs, get information on available resources, and connect with their loved ones.

Ideally, the centre would like to give 5,000 of its most vulnerable clients a fully functional mobile device.

So far, SRCHC has only received 61 phones and 68 SIM cards and is appealing for donations.

“This project really came about because we needed to find a way to get devices to our clients. … We want to at least give them an option to pick up the phone and call someone,” said Surkhab Peerzada, SRCHC’s regional manager of chronic disease.

“We needed to do something and we needed to do it as soon as possible.”

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic nine weeks ago, the South Riverdale Community Health Centre has moved most of its programs and services online, however a high percentage of the people that have typically accessed them are homeless, under-housed, and on a fixed income and don’t have a functional cell phone, tablet, or computer.

“We really want to bridge that digital gap,” said Peersada, who is co-chairing the device drive with Andrea Laing, the organization’s communications manager.

“Unfortunately, these cracks in the system are much more evident since the outbreak.”

Anyone able to donate either a new or used device with a charger can drop drop it off at 2 Gower St., just off Dawes Road, or 955 Queen St. E., just east of Carlaw Avenue. Don’t forget to factory reset your device, especially if it’s an Android or Apple product.

Broken devices including those with cracked screens or frayed wires, devices that are more than five years old, devices with poor battery life like those that need to be plugged into power to work, and SIM locked devices that cannot be factory reset are not being accepted.

Monetary donations, which will be used to buy SIM cards and short-term data plans to activate the devices, are also greatly needed.

Visit or email at [email protected] for more details.

Joanna Lavoie

by Joanna Lavoie

Joanna Lavoie is an award-winning, bilingual journalist with more than a decade of diverse experience. A graduate of Ryerson University’s Journalism Program, she is a breaking news reporter for

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