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Youth Centres of Calgary improves food access during COVID-19 pandemic

COVID-19 has posed a variety of challenges for Calgarians, but it’s also shed light on pre-existing issues, such as food insecurity. 

Jane Wachowich, the Executive Director of Youth Centres of Calgary (YCC), has begun a program to help alleviate this issue.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Wachowich said it became apparent that many kids would not be fed at school. She says some wouldn’t have access to food at home either. 

“What we decided to do was not close and we repurposed the center in Ogden into a food distribution system, where we would receive lunches from a commercial kitchen and distribute them to our kids,” said Wachowich. 

The food distribution program originated in Ogden, but Wachowich said it quickly spread to other areas of Calgary. There are now eight sites located throughout the city, primarily picked based on the level of need in each community. 

Sites must be close to a school, Calgary housing, or other low-income housing, and preferably a playground.

The center has no affiliation with the CBE. YCC has fostered a close relationship with teachers, principals, and social workers who keep Wachowhich informed of the need. 

“I don’t know if it’s become more apparent to me, or whether it’s more significant as a result of our economy and the pandemic, but a lot of these families are unable to access other resources,” she said.

“We need to go to the families, where the need resides and where the families reside,” said Wachowich.

More than just a food program

Wachowich started handing out food based on community need. Youth Centres of Calgary hopes to do much more than just feed kids. 

One of the main components of YCC’s values is empowering kids, as well as their communities. Wachowich said the food program also acts as a leg up for communities and families alike. 

“We really want families and communities to become self-sustaining financially and in terms of helping each other out,” said Wachowich.

“We’re not just showing up sprinkling fairy dust, we’re actually enabling communities to take on this work on their own.”

Part of this empowerment means treating those in need with dignity and subtlety, something Wachowich said creates a trusting relationship and people are more likely to come back.

Future of the program depends on future needs

Wachowich knows food insecurity won’t disappear as life slowly returns to normal. She said she’ll continue to do whatever she can to help. There’s a lot of need in Calgary and she can’t unsee what she’s seen.

Currently all of the summer pick-up sites are open from 12:00-1:30 pm, more information and specific hours can be found at Youth Centres of Calgary’s website.