Recent news stories may describe High River as one of Canada’s hardest hit areas in the COVID-19 pandemic, but its residents tell a different story. The High River community doesn’t focus on how hard they’ve been hit, but rather on how well they’re coming together and adapting to the strange new normal they find themselves in. After all, they are no strangers to crisis.
After the flood of 2013, High River’s residents learned to lean on each other and support the most vulnerable. In 2020, their community spirit is being called upon once again. With the help of United Way of Calgary and Area and The City of Calgary’s COVID-19 Community Response Fund, the community is ensuring the most vulnerable continue to receive the services they need.
A pandemic can create additional needs and stressors, but it doesn’t take away those that already exist. The closure of schools doesn’t take away vulnerable children’s need for healthy lunches. The reduction in public transit doesn’t take away seniors’ need for groceries and prescriptions. The loss of income doesn’t take away the mortgage payments for recovery homes supporting vulnerable women.
That’s where the COVID-19 Community Response Fund comes in. For some non-profits and organizations in High River, it’s the only thing keeping their vital services running at this time.
Suvi-Tuulia Lorenz-Curtis is the program coordinator at High River Food for Thought, a non-profit that provides healthy school lunches to vulnerable children. Under normal circumstances, they provide around 110 lunches a day directly to schools and daycares, with the help of over 50 volunteers.
When schools closed, Lorenz-Curtis admits Food for Thought staff originally thought they would have to shut down. But when schools started reaching out and looking for ways to continue the support, the non-profit sprung into action. “We had to basically overnight revamp the whole way we are doing things,” Lorenz-Curtis says.
They let families contact them directly, and instead of just delivering lunches Monday to Friday, they expanded their services to run every day, even adding a breakfast item. The emergency fund also allowed Food for Thought to hire somebody to help in the kitchen, since they can no longer rely on their 50-strong army of volunteers.
Lorenz-Curtis said United Way’s funding has kept them afloat, especially since many of their usual grants are currently unavailable. “To be honest, it made this possible,” she says, adding that the families are incredibly grateful to still have their support. “You can feel there is a relief, something less to worry about.”
And there’s another, unexpected addition to Food for Thought’s packages—children’s books donated by the local library. Lorenz-Curtis was touched by this, but not necessarily surprised.
“High River has always been a very strong community, working together and collaborating,” she says, adding, “Since the COVID-19 pandemic, it has just been getting stronger.”
The High River Handibus also knows firsthand just how impactful the emergency fund can be. At a time when seniors are disproportionately impacted, the Handibus has been able to give them some good news. Their essential trips into town for medical purposes, prescriptions, and groceries will now be provided for free.
Terry Storch, chair of the board of directors, says at first the clients were in disbelief at receiving the services at no cost, but word quickly spread throughout the community. “Seniors still have medical appointments and they still have to get groceries. That’s where United Way comes in,” Storch says.
COVID-19 has drastically impacted their business. The door-to-door transport service normally averages 550 in-town pick-ups and 125 out-of-town trips a month. Since the pandemic, they have been making less than 25% of their regular pick-ups, which has a knock-on effect on their income. “A lot of our costs are fixed, and without the United Way funding we certainly couldn’t be offering this free service,” Storch says.
Another High River organization that has experienced financial loss amid the pandemic is Narrow Road Home, a long-term recovery home for women dealing with addictions and mental health issues. Many of the women volunteer at Narrow Road Home’s creperie, coffee shop, and clothing store to help offset some of the costs of the program. But with restaurants and stores closed, Narrow Road Home’s entrepreneurial activities have all but dried up. And with many supporting families facing financial uncertainty, Executive Director Kimberley Engbrecht is bracing for more potential hardship in the future.
“We’ve had to limit a lot of our activities. We were just opening a gym, so we had to put that on hold,” Engbrecht says. They plan to use United Way’s funding to make up for the loss of income and ensure their overheads and basic needs like food, shelter, and staffing are covered.
But despite everything, Engbrecht has seen a lot of good come out of this situation. “I’ve seen a strengthening in our ladies. They are building a lot of resiliency through this and adaptability,” she says. And although the break in routine may be difficult, the women are glad to be riding out the lockdown with Narrow Road Home’s support. “A lot of women are grateful they are here. If they weren’t in a program now, they don’t trust that their addiction wouldn’t be consuming them. Isolation is the real enemy to addiction,” Engbrecht says.
Like Lorenz-Curtis and Storch, Engbrecht is proud of how the local community is coming together. “In a way, it seems High River has a really strong backbone, a survivor mentality.” And with the help of the COVID-19 Community Response Fund, Engbrecht is confident that “this too shall pass.”
To find out how you can support Calgary and area during this difficult time, visit: https://calgaryunitedway.org/covid-response-fund/
Thanks to a generous group of local philanthropists, all donations to the COVID-19 Community Response Fund will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $500,000. If you can, please consider donating and supporting the most vulnerable in our community: Donate now.