VANCOUVER — While panicked shoppers have been buying stores out of toilet paper and flour stocks, two tables have appeared on streets in the Vancouver area stacked with essential items and a sign that says “free.”

Raymond Liu, who is part of a group that set up the tables, said the idea behind them is simple: “Do not spread the virus, just spread love.”

The message seems to be catching on. In many cases, someone will pick up an item they need but leave something else behind that others could use, Liu said.

The idea started in a WeChat social media group that has grown to 1,000 people who want to help during the crisis, he said.

“Members of the group can post an item they need and others can respond, leaving it on one of the tables for them to pick up.”

In addition to the tables, Liu said they also crowdsource donations of supplies for those in need. For example, when members learned a care home was short on N95 masks, which provide respiratory protection, they found enough extra boxes to donate 100 masks.

The group’s main focus is helping those in isolation or those who are vulnerable, Liu said.

And one of its main messages is that love should know no boundary. A sign on one of the tables shows a Canadian flag, a Chinese flag and the words, “Stay strong, stay together.”

“People shouldn’t care about which race or which country you come from, you should just help each other. That’s the spirit of Canada,” he said.

The table is lifting the spirits of some residents of the Vancouver and Richmond neighbourhoods that host the tables.

Beryl Woodrow lives a few doors down from Daniel and Sophia Pu, who put one of the tables outside their home.

“I got an email from a neighbour who said, ‘Oh Beryl, look at this. Maybe we should let the neighbours know,’ ” she said.

As block watch co-captain, Woodrow shared a photo with members of the community.

“I send out emails all the time and I hardly ever get things back,” she said.

This time, neighbours responded saying they wanted to bake cookies for the table hosts and write cards to thank Daniel and Sophia Pu and their friends for the gesture.

“I have never received so many emails from the neighbourhood exclaiming how wonderful something is.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 25, 2020.


Amy Smart, The Canadian Press