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Calgary communities band together to support others during coronavirus outbreak

Calgary social worker Juliet Burgess said it calms her down in times of crisis to just do something for others. To organize people.

With the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in Calgary and hundreds of people in isolation awaiting test results or with the virus, Burgess has mobilized her community of Inglewood to offer assistance in a time of need.

“For me, it’s kind of, like weirdly helpful for me to just at least try and do something for somebody because otherwise I just feel a little helpless,” Burgess said.

On Friday, Alberta’s Chief Medical officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, announced a further six cases in the province, bringing the total to 29.


In recent city updates, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi has been talking about three things for the coronavirus situation: Clean hands. Clear heads. Open hearts.

It’s a message he’s reiterated as citizens figure out how to handle coronavirus in their community.

“It is critical that we take a community-based response, that we look after one another, that we use the best information and the best science to ensure everyone stays healthy,” Nenshi said in his March 11 media scrum after an emergency management meeting.

“In particular, let’s take special care of older people. We need to look after older people to keep them safe throughout all of this process. We need to look in on our neighbours – if you have a neighbour who’s in isolation, drop some soup on the porch.

“Remind people, that even if they’re feeling isolated, that they live in a community that cares about them and cares about their health.

The Inglewood COVID-19 response

Burgess has been a resident of Inglewood on and off for 20 years and she said in times of emergency people rely on the systems in place but need the community-based effort that isn’t always there when the threat level is low.

Burgess likened this response to how the community handled the 2013 southern Alberta floods.

“I’m a social worker, and part of the job is sort of creating that community and making sure that people feel supported,” she said.

Right now they’re creating a database in the neighbourhood of those who are at risk, those who are isolated and need help, and those who are willing to help.

“We’re today just getting out all the flyers to everybody because there’s a lot of folks who aren’t on the internet and those are the people that probably need the help the most,” said Burgess.

The support system is being set up to help those in isolation by getting groceries for them, or  calling or Facetiming people to ensure they have a social connection and that they’re alright. There are also a handful of doctors in the Inglewood area who are willing to help with any first aid so the health system isn’t burdened.

They’ve had local support to get it off the ground, too. Little Rock printers in Inglewood helped them by printing their flyer for free. Others are stepping up to post the flyers – even as Calgary is in the throes of second winter.

Pressure on Calgary small business

Shortly after the first COVID-19 case, and with public health measures starting to be enforced, Calgary photographer Neil Zeller had six consecutive e-mails cancelling major events that he had scheduled to shoot.

“I booked my scheduled three months in advance, and that three months has effectively dried up completely for me,” Zeller told LiveWire Calgary on Friday.

“I don’t have the means to pay rent three months from now.”

LWC SHORTCAST: Full conversation with Neil Zeller on coronavirus impact to small businessand what can be done to help.

Not only that, but his wife works with him in his company, so this will affect both of them.

He said with the cancellation of major events, the limit on large gatherings,  and then organizations reeling from the coronavirus situation, he said other small businesses are going to be battered.

“I’m worried about myself and others in my position. Three months from now even if this thing ends there’s going to be a pretty big gap of no payment for small businesses like myself,” he said.

Zeller wanted to take some action – not only to help himself, but to give a voice to others who could leverage his Twitter platform, at 10,600 followers strong.

“I went to Twitter yesterday (March 12) and just kind of spilled my guts and kind of a come to Jesus moment where you know, guys, we got to support each other,” he said.

People responded immediately. Offers of photo jobs came in.

“I sold, yesterday, 1500 dollars in prints,” Zeller said.

Boosting others in a time of need

Much of the work Zeller does is in the arts, non-profit and social sphere – he said, “events where we’re championing each other.”

He wanted to use his channel to help support other businesses.

“I have a strong Twitter following that I’ve built up over the years, connecting communities and being positive and trying to sort of be a member of society that people want to go hang out with online. I don’t want to take advantage of that in a way that I’m the only one getting support,” he said.

“My wife and I talked about yesterday and said, We can’t just sort of do this for ourselves. We need to, you know, help build this entire community up because I’m one of so many that are in the same boat.”

He said he’s doing what he can to amplify that message of others in a similar situation. The best advertising is word of mouth, he said.

Right now, his message to other is: Shop local.

“That’s the work I want people to do. I want people to go to the Italian supermarket. I want them to go to Chinatown and shop, walk down the street and shop at the shops in Kensington,” he said.

“And others have started a movement where, you know what, just go buy a gift card for a restaurant that you’re not going to go eat at right now.”

More communities latching on to neighbourhood effort

The work that Burgess has done has spurred other communities into action. She said the Ramsay Facebook page has begun messaging their residents to help.

In Renfrew, David Barrett has used the Inglewood model as a template to build the same community network in his area. Something similar has also popped up in Tuscany. In Haysboro, their president Kourtney Branagan has out together a guideline for communities to use for entry into their association buildings.

Burgess said there’s need in many areas around the city. And with the help of others, it’s something any neighbourhood can undertake.

“It’s something that I think it’s not such a big deal for people to do. I think people think it’s going to be so much work. But if you are able to set boundaries for yourself and say, ‘I can help these people, and I’m going to do my best at that,’ then it’s something any of us can do if we have the privilege and the time,” she said.

If your community is putting together a neighbourhood help network, please email darren.krause@livewirecalgary.com and we’ll add your information and a link to our story.