The COVID-19 pandemic has created unexpected challenges for many organizations within our community. Calgary’s Centre for Newcomers found itself among those forced to adapt and has been providing emergency food hampers to clients in immediate need of food supplies as a result of the current situation. In the past two weeks, Stampede volunteers have stepped up to help.

The Centre for Newcomers supports new Calgarians, offering services and initiatives to assist them in settling and integrating into the community. Aside from their regular support, for the past two months, employees and volunteers have been putting together and delivering as many as 20 hampers a day filled with culturally appropriate food items for families in need throughout the community.

“The support from the Calgary Stampede volunteers is highly appreciated, not only because it reduces the stress and work load from the team who have been building the hampers for over two months, but also because it shows that we are not alone supporting the community and that the Calgary community at large is there to support those in need during this difficult time,” says Hernando Ortega, Associate Director, Innovative Services.

Ortega, himself a 10-day Stampede volunteer with the Agri-Food committee, says it’s great to see some familiar faces come lend a hand and share some Stampede spirit.

“The Centre for Newcomers and Calgary Stampede volunteers have collaborated on several initiatives over the past few years, so it somehow feels like getting support from a group of well-known friends and community enthusiasts,” says Ortega, adding “In addition, the Calgary Stampede Volunteers bring recognition and visibility for the initiative among the larger Calgary community, and they always make sure to bring smiles to the team while doing the hard work!”

A handful of Stampede volunteers from various committees joined the efforts to pack and deliver the food hampers for the first time on June 9, and with the additional support of vehicles from our long-time partner GMC, small groups will continue to join in on the effort each Tuesday. Those participating say they’re thankful to be able to help others in our community during these trying times.

“The recipients, six families, were thrilled to get the much needed supplies and were surprised to see the Calgary Stampede vehicle roll up,” say Cody Johnson, a volunteer with the Courtesy Car committee. “Personally, it gave me a needed boost knowing we were helping new folks get settled in.”

The day also provided an opportunity for the volunteers to learn more about the support the Centre for Newcomers provides.

“Seeing the facilities including the commercial kitchen where they teach required kitchen skills to newcomers so they can pursue jobs, and understanding the wide scope of the whole organization, from daycare to English language skills, is amazing, and inspiring,” says Courtesy Car committee chair Craig Hauer. “What a great organization for Calgary’s newcomers. They should be immensely proud of what they are doing.”

The Centre for Newcomers points to the support of a number of different community groups and businesses whose generous donations and food have allowed them to provide more than 630 food hampers throughout April and May, including the United Way of Calgary, the Calgary Board of Education, Alberta Health Trust, Cargill, Calgary Co-op and Leftovers Foundation.

A special feature of these at-home deliveries is the focus on culturally appropriate items such as halal, vegetarian, Ethiopian/west African, Filipino, and Asian foods. The families who receive them are pleased to be given food items that resemble their usual diet, and the Centre for Newcomers is now connecting with another community organization, the Calgary Food Bank, to see if there is the potential to work together once the current crisis has passed.