A volunteer group has been overwhelmed with support as a COVID outbreak in the children's cancer ward at HSC means patients and parents are currently in isolation, with caregivers unable to leave the ward even to get meals.

Naomi Fehr is the board chair of Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Support Group. The group is made up of "volunteer parents who strive to make a difference in the lives of families impacted by childhood cancer," Fehr says. The group often offers support to parents and caregivers of young cancer patients in a variety of ways

The CK5 ward (children's cancer) at Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg is currently in isolation due to some of the kids having COVID, Fehr says. It's a trying situation, and the reality of the dangers of COVID affecting young cancer patients is compounding the stress.

"Often when we think of the vulnerable getting really sick with COVID, we tend to think of adults.  Not often do we picture these little faces who are already facing giants bigger than they should ever have to."

"The families know that the staff is doing their absolute best to care for them," Fehr says. "This is just the start of isolation, so they still seem to be doing as well as can be expected. On the cancer front, knowing that the kids are immune-compromised and the threat of Covid is quite scary."

The families are required to isolate, some for 12 days, and can’t leave their rooms for food.  The children get their meals, but there is currently only a bag lunch provided for the parent, according to Fehr. When a parent in the ward reached out to the Candlelighters to explain the situation, Fehr says the board was instantaneous and unanimous in its agreement to provide a hot meal each day to the parents/caregivers on the ward. She says that the kids are still getting their three meals a day from the hospital.

"I just got off the phone with the child life department. The families just got their second meal (Friday evening) and they are so incredibly touched. Somehow it makes them feel like they matter and aren’t in this alone. I also spent a few minutes FaceTiming with the mom whose cry for help sparked this initiative. We both had tears. This means so much to them. She kept thanking me over and over."

For people interested in making a donation, they can send an e-transfer to support@manitobacandlelighters.org Those who send an e-transfer should include their email address in the notes section so they can receive a tax receipt. While donations have quickly begun to roll in, Fehr says that the more money they raise the more they're able to do to help people who are already in the midst of a trying situation.

She says in an update Saturday morning that in just a short time the public has rallied around the group to help support the parents and caregivers. "We’ve raised over $14,000. Restaurants have been reaching out. People have been offering to help families in other ways as well. I’ve been interviewed twice. It’s been quite the whirlwind.  It’s one thing to believe in what you’re doing, and so much more when hundreds of people (many strangers) show that they too believe that we are doing great things and are excited to be a part of it."