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HELPERS: York Region paramedics warm hearts with blanket drive

Veteran paramedic spearheads the volunteer drive that brings connection and joy to local seniors in hospital
York Region Paramedic Services paramedic Helen Galanis (right) with fellow paramedics and the blankets collected in the annual nanny blanket drive.

York Region paramedic Helen Galanis didn't want the first responders' connection to the community to end when the medical emergency was over. That's why she started the nanny blanket drive in 2008 to provide blankets to seniors in hospital.  

“I wanted to do something more for the elderly population so it doesn’t just end with our job,” she said. “I feel like paramedics are far more compassionate and I think we have a lot more to offer and a lot more to give." 

Galanis has been a paramedic for more than 20 years and said they often treat elderly patients. 

She began collecting donations of brand new blankets and funds to buy blankets from fellow paramedics. The initiative has grown to involve family, friends and other members of the community. 

Galanis, with the help of her friend, sister and mom, labels each of the blankets with a special tag and wraps them up with a ribbon before they are handed out at local hospitals. 

On Christmas Eve, paramedics delivered about 150 blankets at Southlake Regional Health Centre and Markham Stouffville Hospital. 

Following all required COVID-19 protocols, Galanis said she, along with other volunteers, goes room to room to deliver the blankets to elderly patients and have a visit with them. 

“A lot of times the interaction is far more rewarding than the donation,” she said, adding that many of the patients don't get a lot of visitors. 

Stella Johnson, director of emergency and mental health at Southlake, said the hospital was grateful to work with York Region Paramedic Services and receive blankets for patients who were there over the holidays

“Their faces lit up with joy when they received a warm, comfy blanket. This thoughtful gesture went a long way to brighten the spirits of patients who spent their holiday in the hospital," she said. 

This was the first year since 2019 that the paramedics have been able to hold the blanket drive due to pandemic has restrictions over the past two years. Galanis said that made it even more special this time. 

"I think it’s made an even bigger impact now than it ever has just because of the pandemic and how it’s kind of put a stop to a lot of the human elements that we had in the past,” she said. “This is bringing back, in a lot of ways, that human connection and even just the ability to go into the patients rooms and converse with them and interact with them face to face after so many years, it was very heartwarming."

While the drive is a lot of work to organize, Galanis said the interactions with the patients and the joy that brings makes it all worthwhile. 

“It does keep me going year after year," she said. 


Elizabeth Keith

About the Author: Elizabeth Keith

Elizabeth Keith is a general assignment reporter. She graduated from Carleton University with a Bachelor of Journalism in 2017. Elizabeth is passionate about telling local stories and creating community.
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