It had been weeks since Dawn Heck had seen her dad, Keith Davidson, who moved into the Parkridge Centre in Saskatoon just a week before COVID-19 meant no visitors were allowed in care homes.
But she's now been able to Facetime with him because of a project called Operation Lifeline.
"He reached out and waved at me on the phone one day, and that was something that really, really warmed my heart," said Heck.
Operation Lifeline is an initiative of cellphone dealer Bolt Mobile that puts free, refurbished phones in the hands of people in care homes, so they can video chat with loved ones.
Operation Lifeline began with Bolt donating about 20 phones to residents in care homes who could not have visitors, said Kevin Kindrachuk, head of marketing for Bolt.
"The demand was there, and so we reached out to the community in Saskatchewan, and people are donating their old phones and old tablets and we're refurbishing them and getting them to these care homes and these hospitals," Kindrachuk said.
Heck said it has been a tough transition for her father and the family.
"A week before the lockdown began we had moved dad from a private care home into a long-term care home at Parkridge," Heck said. "Not only was he learning how to adapt to a whole new life with new residents, new staff and a very different everything, but his family was suddenly gone from him as well. So it's been a very difficult time.
Being able to see each other has made a huge difference in connecting with her dad.
"There's something extra special about being able to communicate face to face, even if it is just a virtual face to face," Heck said. "With the donation from Bolt Mobile of these reconditioned cell phones and the help of those staff members at Parkridge I've been able to Facetime or video chat with dad every day.
"We've cursed the snow yesterday, walked the hallways beside him and watched his birds and visited with him in his room. I'm seeing what he sees and it's made our conversations that much more meaningful."
Kindrachuk said it is emotional to hear that their gesture is making such an impact on connecting families.
"It's a small thing we're doing but it's making a big difference. And we're hearing from these families and from these care homes and hospitals and, yeah, it just feels good to do good."
Kindrachuk said they ask everyone who donates a phone that's in good working condition to sanitize them first.
Bolt also does its own sanitizing and then refurbishes the phone.
"These phones and tablets need to have a good working camera, a good battery life," Kindrachuk said. "And we actually go and download Skype and Facetime to these phones to make sure everything's working so that it's literally turn it on and away you go.
To either donate or request to get a refurbished device, go to Boltmobile.ca.
Devices can also be dropped off at any of the four stores in Saskatoon, though Kindrachuk said to call ahead.
For those outside of Saskatoon, use the website and the company will arrange for shipping.