Since it first appeared in Alberta, COVID-19 has impacted everyone, especially our most vulnerable, creating complexities in the challenges people across our city face.

One young mother, a newcomer to Canada and a single parent to a one-year-old baby, was worried. She feared for the health of her child. Transportation was a challenge, as she did not have a vehicle and lived in a community of very elderly neighbours who did not drive either. Soon, her fridge was empty, and with no food for herself, she was unable to breastfeed her baby. She was afraid and unsure of how to help herself or her child.

Then she received a follow-up call from the Women in Need Society (WINS), which had helped her a month earlier when she first arrived in Calgary. A kind person on the other end of the line asked how she was doing. The young mother said she was in a state of depression, unsure of what to do. The WINS staff member offered support, helping the young woman write out a list of needs and determine how to access them. In addition to an emergency hamper of food, they provided her with a food bank referral, clothing for her and her baby, and diapers. The young woman was so thankful she broke into tears on the phone.

Local non-profit organizations are working hard to help Calgarians who are facing these kinds of challenges. The COVID-19 Community Response Fund was established by United Way and The City of Calgary (including the Calgary Emergency Management Agency) to support agencies, like WINS and the Leftovers Foundation, that are helping vulnerable Calgarians during this extraordinary time.

How WINS is helping our most vulnerable

Karen Ramchuk, executive director of WINS, has seen many situations that vulnerable members of our communities are facing. In addition to partnering with more than 85 other agencies across the city to coordinate housing, access to food, and mental health supports for clients, WINS offers the Free Goods Referral Program. This program helps support vulnerable women and their families who are financially disadvantaged access basic household needs, furniture, and clothing at no cost.

Over the past two months, Karen has seen the need for help across our city increase dramatically.

“The first two weeks were very quiet because everyone was being told to stay home. People just went without. But once everyone realized that this was going to be a long-term reality, calls for the Free Good Referral Program are now up about 70 per cent.”

Traditionally WINS clients have been limited to women and their families. But the impact of COVID-19 on the social sector in our city, and the fact that so many non-profit organizations have had to close their doors, has meant more people have been coming to WINS for help. As a result, they have expanded their program to support any Calgarian in need at this time. Thanks to the support of generous Calgarians donating to the COVID-19 Community Response Fund, WINS has been able to keep the Free Goods Referral Program operating during this crucial time.

In addition to clothing, household items, and furniture, WINS has also begun giving clients emergency food hampers and baby supplies, such as diapers, wipes, and formula, as they have seen an astronomical need for these items in the community.

Vera Nassar, senior program coordinator for the Free Goods Referral Program, explained that with greater need across the community due to COVID-19, they are seeing clients that normally would not have needed their help. One new client, who was from outside the country, rented a room in her landlord’s home. Because the landlord’s elderly parents also live in the house, they asked her to find another place to live to reduce the risk of their elderly parents getting sick. Feeling helpless, isolated, and alone, the woman reached out to WINS, who referred her to other agencies for help finding housing. They also told her that once she had somewhere to live, she could rely on the Free Goods Referral Program to help her get set up with the essentials.

Due to the closure of all non-essential services, WINS has had to temporarily close their family thrift stores, which greatly impacted their ability to pay for programs and operating costs.

And they are not alone.

The Leftovers Foundation’s Fresh Routes program

The Leftovers Foundation has a noble goal: to reduce food waste and increase food access in our community. Since COVID-19 became a reality, access to food has become a great challenge and concern for many people in Calgary and the surrounding area.

The Leftovers Foundation’s Fresh Routes program offers a mobile grocery store that carries fruit, vegetables, eggs, and whole grains, all sold at accessible prices out of trucks and busses. While customers are encouraged to pay what they can to keep the service operating, there are a limited number of donated food boxes available to those in the greatest need.

Through the Leftovers Foundation’s Food Rescue app, food is collected from local restaurants, bakeries, grocers, and distributors to keep edible food out of the landfill, redirecting it to those who need it most. Volunteers rescue edible food that would otherwise be thrown out, and it is donated to local organizations, including the Calgary Drop-In Centre, Alpha House, and Inn from the Cold.

Once COVID-19 began to impact our city, the Leftovers Foundation saw a substantial increase in donations as restaurants closed their doors and suppliers were left with food they could not sell. The Leftovers Foundation began picking up pallets of food from distributors that would have normally gone to restaurants.

Since March 13, the organization has redirected over 100,000 pounds of food within the Calgary area. This has gone to benefit food insecure households, as well as many service agencies in Calgary and area.

Support from the COVID-19 Community Response Fund helps the Leftovers Foundation offer a one-to-one delivery system and funds the emergency home delivery program for those who are in isolation or in urgent need of healthy food.

If you are in isolation, or an emergency situation and need access to food, you can request a delivery from the Fresh Routes program here.

This is all possible because of you

The Community Response Fund supported WINS, as well as the Leftovers Foundation. But we couldn’t do it without the generosity of all the Calgarians who have donated to the fund.

It will take many hands to lift us up during this COVID-19 crisis, but Calgary is a compassionate, caring community. We’ve shown that at times of crisis, we come together to take care of the most vulnerable and ensure that no one is left behind. We truly are #UnitedApart.

Right now, thanks to a generous group of local donors, all donations to the Community Impact Fund will be matched, up to $500,000. To learn more, please visit

Thank you for the kindness and generosity we are seeing across our community.