Community grant helps feed immigrant families in Saskatchewan

By: Kathy Mueller, Senior communications advisor, Canadian Red Cross

When the COVID-19 pandemic was declared a year ago, it didn’t take long for newcomers to Canada to start knocking harder on the door of the Battlefords Immigration Resource Centre in Saskatchewan.

“People were being laid off from work. Families were struggling to make ends meet. One lady was crying. She had no food to feed her family. We basically pulled funding out of our reserve fund and gave her some money,” explains the Centre’s Annette McGovern. “I thought, we have to do something.”

Rows of cardboard boxes filled with foodThat something evolved into an idea of providing regular boxes of groceries to at-risk immigrant families, however with no funding and no vehicle, it just wasn’t feasible.

McGovern then heard about the Canadian Red Cross “COVID-19 Emergency Support for Community Organizations” initiative. It saw the Red Cross award funds from the Government of Canada to community-based organizations which were striving to continue delivering vital frontline services to those most at-risk to the health, social and economic impacts of COVID-19.

“I thought if we could rent a van for a few months, we could get food out to people until they get back to work,” says McGovern.

With funding from the Red Cross in the bank, Centre staff purchased food, rented a vehicle, and began curbside delivery, reaching approximately 40 families every two weeks.

As some newcomers are not as familiar with ingredients found on the shelves of Canadian grocery stores or how to utilize them, the organization focused on providing fruits and vegetables. “Where possible, we also included some food stuffs the families would be familiar with,” explains McGovern.
“And we also included recipes that they could utilize to make great big meals that would last for a couple of days.”

Most of the produce came from the Midwest Foods Community Garden and local Hutterite colonies also supported the initiative with donations.

Virtual sessions were held to show families how to cook using the ingredients in the food boxes, culminating with a Thanksgiving meal. “It was exciting to see the families excited about being able to provide a Thanksgiving meal for their families. The various cultures had different offerings of how to prepare the dressing and how they cooked the turkey,” says McGovern.

Families have provided extremely positive feedback, proud to use the opportunity to practice their English skills. One mother writes, “My family enjoyed celery, cucumber, tomato, mushroom, potato, onion, garlic, banana, apple, grapes, avocado. When receiving it, I was very touched because Canada had meaningful programs to support newcomers to integrate and overcome initial difficulties time. I took pictures of them and feel very happy to tell my friends in Vietnam how is human love spread!”

McGovern agrees. “This has been a great program and we are so happy the Red Cross could partner with us. We appreciate the funding. It’s really making a difference.”

The Canadian Red Cross is funding this project thanks to the generous support of the Government of Canada’s Emergency Community Support Fund granting program.

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