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 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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Bridging the Digital Divide

There is no denying that the pandemic has made all of our lives more challenging. Please imagine surviving this pandemic without a phone or a device that keeps you connected to the news, resources, health care and your loved ones; this is the reality for many marginalized clients. Based on a 2019 client survey results, more than 50% of SRCHC clients have an income of less than $25,000/year.

South Riverdale Community Health Centre (SRCHC) is putting out this call to action for donations of used cell phones and chargers. They will give these cell phones to clients in need and support their connections. Clients need phones to attend medical appointments, receive COVID test results, participate in group-based programs to promote social connections, as well as access information and support. “Clients need a way of connecting to holistic health and social services virtually to increase positive health outcomes”, says Jason Altenberg, CEO of South Riverdale Community Health Centre.

SRCHC is in need of used cell phones, SIM cards and chargers in working condition; please visit the website for more information Donation bins are located outside our 2 Gower St. and 955 Queen St. East locations. For people who want to help, but do not have a used cell phone, we are looking for monetary donations to connect the phones to plans; please visit the SRCHC Canada Helps website.

Pregnant woman in pink tshirt using a cell phone