Despite being four months into the COVID-19 public health crisis, Calgary’s community spirit and local love continues to shine through. This was more apparent than ever on July 11th, when hundreds of Calgarians tipped their cowboy hats, and came together to donate basic needs items during the first #UnitedApart Basic Needs Round-Up.

A partnership between United Way of Calgary and Area and the Calgary Stampede, the donation drive aimed to collect basic needs essentials, such as personal hygiene items, diapers, and grocery gift cards for Calgarians struggling to make ends meet.

“For the last five years, we’ve been going through an economic downturn and I always say ‘this year, we need you more than ever,’” said Karen Young, president and CEO of United Way of Calgary and Area. “But guess what: this year we truly need people more than ever. And with times being so tough in our city, we thought it would be a good opportunity to help people meet their basic needs.”

“With this partnership, we wanted to harness the generosity of spirit in the community that Calgarians always show. And Calgarians always show up. They care about their neighbours, and neighbours help neighbours—it’s passion, it’s caring, and it’s living the values that we have here in Calgary. It makes me really proud to see what we can do when we work together”

Over 400 local individuals and families signed up for the donation drive.

“Giving back during Stampede, to me, just reflects the need that there is in Calgary year round,” said Laura Nixon, a round-up donor. “It’s awesome when we’re thinking about coming together as a community for events such as Stampede that we think about our community as a whole. And remember that we always can give a little bit back so that we’re stronger together.”

Before COVID-19, one in five Calgarians worried about having enough money for food. Now, with high levels of unemployment, disruption of business activities, and social isolation, that need is at an all-time high.

“Through COVID-19, there’s actually been a shift in need,” said Karen Ramchuk, executive director at WINS. “Always before with basic needs, we would supply them to people living in poverty and people in crisis. Through COVID-19, the need has become a lot more complex—and a lot greater.”

Donations were collected from all over the city by Calgary Stampede volunteers, who showed up with all their western hospitality to pick up basic needs items.

“The Calgary Stampede has a long history of giving back to the community,” said Dana Peers, Calgary Stampede president and chairman of the board. “This year has been difficult for everyone, so for us to be able to give back in some way, with our volunteers, with our support, has really been meaningful.”

Joshua Truba, vice president of land and business development at NuVista Energy Ltd., says employees immediately stepped up to support Calgarians during these difficult times.

“When we heard that there was need in the community and there was an opportunity to participate, we got together,” he said. “Obviously it’s a tough time for Calgary, and we’re all fellow Calgarians and want to see everyone do well and succeed. We’ve been long-time supporters of United Way, so whatever we can do to give back and help was something that we wanted to be part of.”

A few lucky individuals were treated to a pick up by Stampede Royalty, Harry the horse, and even this year’s Calgary Stampede parade marshal, Filipe Masetti Leite.

“It takes many hands, you know, and it took many hands today—it’s just so awesome to be a part of it,” said Masetti Leite. “You hear it so much, the amazing community spirit that exists in this city, and this year we’re able to see it firsthand. I think it’s even more special than having a rodeo or a party to be doing this and feeling it for real and seeing it.”

Thank you to everyone who was able to donate, volunteer, or give back during the first basic needs round-up. All donated items were dropped off at WINS and the Calgary Food Bank, and will be distributed to those in our community who need them the most.

Even when we’re apart, we showed that when we’re united, we can make the biggest difference for our most vulnerable neighbours.