When The City of Calgary mandated a city-wide lockdown in mid-March of this year, the Genesis Centre in northeast Calgary closed its doors and moved much of its programming online. The centre, which serves as the North of McKnight Community Hub, supports 11 communities in the northeast quadrant of the city, and offers an array of recreational, health, cultural, and social services within a welcoming gathering space for residents. Last year, approximately 2 million people visited the hub.

“We are here to figure out how to provide the community with what it needs,” said Sherry King, executive director of the Genesis Centre. “We have a pretty big reach, and the community knows we’re here for them. Not everyone knows all the services we provide, but they know we’re a place they can reach out to for support.”

With layoffs and temporary closures of both northeast Calgary Food Bank depots, many residents faced the looming threat of empty pantries and dinner tables. For children who relied on school lunches as one guaranteed meal of the day, school closures meant going to bed hungry.

“It quickly became clear that there was a growing need in the community—a swift rise in food insecurity—that wasn’t being addressed.” – Sherry King

One evening, King received a call from The City of Calgary, a partner in the Community Hubs Initiative, alongside United Way of Calgary and Area and the Rotary Clubs of Calgary. The City wanted to see how the Community Hub at Genesis Centre could help Calgarians access basic needs and essential services during the lockdown.

A few weeks later, the Genesis Centre opened its parking lot to offer a free, drive-through food service with support from Trellis, the Salvation Army, Calgary Food Bank, Brown Bagging for Kids, Meals on Wheels, and others. The service consisted of meals and food hampers, and was offered to whoever needed it, no questions asked.

After hearing about the initiative, the Dashmesh Cultural Centre quickly joined in, coordinating volunteers to prepare, deliver, and serve hot meals to people as they waited for their food hampers. Dashmesh also partnered with Brown Bagging for Kids to offer free lunches to children and teens in need.

“Our faith and community is built on the foundation of helping others; we have a tradition that involves offering free daily vegetarian meals to visitors regardless of religion or ethnicity,” said Raj Sidhu, director of operations at Dashmesh Cultural Centre. “We had overwhelming support of the community, and were able to serve over 61,000 hot meals, 1,400 lunches to school children, and over 4,500 food hampers.”

“The community rallied around neighbours with no judgement and no questions asked.” – Kiima Bailey

And that’s not all.

Between May and June, the Salvation Army and Brown Bagging for Kids distributed food hampers to 1,029 families, including 2,154 children and 2,253 adults. Meals on Wheels, which handed out food hampers to students twice a week, supported almost 600 students and their families. If these numbers seem impressive, it’s because they are. They are even more impressive when one learns that the food service program was primarily volunteer-led.

“The community rallied around neighbours with no judgement and no questions asked,” said Kiima Bailey, the City of Calgary community social worker at the Genesis Centre Community Hub. “We saw people coming together and supporting one another to access the food program.”

These strong community connections played a big role in spreading the word about the food hamper and hot lunch programs. But Bailey, King, and other staff and partners knew that many of the residents would need other supports as well. They put together resource packages and connected residents to financial services and community connections as well as online programs, which residents could access thanks to laptop donations from United Way.

“There was an entire network of organizations working together,” said King. “You’d send an email out and people were responding with ‘we can offer this; we can bring that.’ Everyone was helping out. I am deeply grateful for all wonderful organizations filled with truly amazing people who are making these programs possible.

“Our greatest strength is our people—our staff, partners, volunteers, and residents. Thank you for feeding our community!”

United Way is proud to work alongside dedicated partners and volunteers who rallied together to support our community during a time of great need. Thank you to our partners in the Community Hubs Initiative, the North of McKnight Community Hub at Genesis Centre, and all the inspiring individuals who selflessly dedicate their time and efforts to help those who need it the most. Because united, we make the biggest difference.

About the Community Hubs Initiative

The Community Hubs Initiative is a partnership between United Way Calgary and Area, The City of Calgary, and the Rotary Clubs of Calgary, in support of Calgary’s poverty-reduction strategy Enough For All. Community Hubs provide residents with a central access point for a range of health and social services, including social, cultural, recreational, and green spaces that promote a strong and vibrant community. Hubs exist in five neighbourhoods across Calgary, each tailored to meet unique community needs.

In October 2020, Shell Canada Limited renewed its multi-year investment in Community Hubs, which has engaged over 100,000 individuals since its launch in 2017. We are grateful to Shell Canada for their ongoing commitment to making our community more inclusive and welcoming, and for demonstrating that united, we make the biggest difference. Read more about Shell Canada’s commitment to Community Hubs and communities throughout Calgary and Canada here.