Vancouver’s youth unite to help seniors during COVID-19

Nikita Nayak / May 6th, 2020

Helping the vulnerable

Karl Chen went on his first ever grocery shopping trip last week to help an 80-year-old resident Lan Lin. He had always relied on his parents to buy groceries.
(Nikita Nayak / BCIT News)

Karl Chen

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, a local group of volunteers is looking to make a difference by helping run errands for Vancouver’s vulnerable population.

The group of 40 something youth from around the Lower Mainland is called, ‘The Asian Unification Project.’

It was co-founded by a former BCIT graduate, Karl Chiu Chen who rallied the troops for this volunteering initiative by roping in contacts from his Facebook network.

According to the Govt. of Canada, people in the following age brackets have had the highest mortality rates due to COVID-19 as of May 7th, 2020.


People aged 40-49


People aged 50-59


People aged 80 or more

The numbers

COVID-19 has proven to be dangerous for people who are above the age of 50 and those who have compromised immune systems.

The aim of this project is to provide support in buying groceries or running errands, therefore minimizing the contact they have with the outside.
The website serves as a volunteer form and was the collective efforts of its volunteers, who have translated it in 6 Asian languages so far.

Chen’s passion for leading the project stems from the fact that his own grandmother lives all by herself in Richmond. She is of Chinese origin and suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.

Chen believes that seniors that belong with a visible minority are arguably most at risk to either contract the virus during the pandemic or be a victim to hate crime if they make a trip to buy groceries.

“People of colour are known to be more susceptible to contracting diseases during a pandemic, any pandemic – this one is no different. There has also been a recent rise in hate crimes against seniors of Asian origin in Vancouver. We want to support these seniors through this project because they can’t go out alone during the lockdown.”

Karl Chen Project Co-founder, Asian Unification Project

The impact

Lan Lin is an 80 year old senior who lives in Burnaby.

Lin says that before COVID-19, she would go grocery shopping often and all by herself. However, during the pandemic, she finds shopping for two week’s worth of groceries hard. She does not own a car and transiting back and forth to Metrotown multiple times would make her tired.

When B.C.’s provincial government put lockdown restrictions under effect, Lin began using a paid private delivery service for her grocery needs. However, soon due to overwhelming requests for delivery in the Lower Mainland, she was put on a waitlist.
Lin had heard about the Asian Unification Project through a friend and reached out for help. She says she is more than grateful for the work that Chen and his network of youth are doing to serve the community elders during these difficult times.

“I am very grateful for the work that you kids are doing. In this time of crisis, you kids are stepping up to help senior folk like us.The least I can do is make a donation to your cause so that you can help more seniors.”

Lan Lin 80-year-old Burnaby Resident

How does it work?

Anyone who wishes to volunteer for the project can sign up using the web form on the website. They are asked to specify any additional languages that they might know, the region they live in and their availability throughout the week.
The volunteer is then added to the ‘master list’ that Chen administers, in order to protect their privacy.
Seniors can submit an ‘ errand request’ through another web form that is available in Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Korean and Hindi.
Chen and his core team of volunteers then matches the request with a volunteer. Once the volunteer is contacted, they are emailed a set of instructions that specify safety precautions.
They are required to wear a mask and gloves, sanitize the grocery bags once they purchase them and once when they are making a delivery.

In the video, Chen talks about the safety measures he takes when running errands for seniors during COVID-19.

Chen and his team are currently open to accepting volunteers that may speak languages other English to add to their volunteer database. Their only ask is that anyone who wishes to signup has been taking self-isolation and social-distancing seriously.