What began on a cold Dec. 1 morning at 7:30 a.m., ended with more than two-days of non-perishable good bags prepared for hungry Calgarians in need.
All this with the sometimes, and in the case of the Ward 3 team quite literally, Olympic achievement in the first-ever Councillors Challenge as part of the annual Mayor’s Food Drive.
Councilliors and their invited team members raced the clock in two 15-minute heats to fill as many bags as they could with two cans of fruit, two cans of beans, and two cans of tomatoes.
The result, said interim Calgary Food Bank President Michael Pasma, was that the non-perishable portion of food hampers would be filled for the next couple of days.
“It’s great to have the support of the city as part of the mayor’s food drive, and the fact that this year we were able to have the all the councillors come helps increase the awareness,” he said.
“It’s very important for us to have all the city represented because our clients come from the entire city, so every single ward out there coming in and contributing, their support is important, and we thank the city, and we thank the mayor and the council for coming today.”
In addition to the councillors and the mayor, members of Calgary’s emergency services and non-profit sector took part on the teams to assist.
Calgary Fire Department Chief Steve Dongworth, as part of the Ward 11 team, went face-to-face with Ward 3 firefighter and former Olympian Helen Upperton.
Councillor Terry Wong’s Ward 7 team Seven Ate Nine, was joined by Inn From The Cold’s Director for Communications and Stakeholder Relations, Emma MacIsaac. Centre for Newcomers CEO Anila Lee Yuen joined Councillor Courtney Walcott on Team Ward 8.
Coun. Mian laughed about her team, consisting entirely of former Olympians.
“It’s really fun and you get to see people’s competitive side for a really good cause,” she said.
“I decided to call up a couple of Olympian friends, one who’s a police officer who was former skeleton athlete, and one who is now a firefighter Helen Upperton, and we’re gonna we’re gonna crush it.”
Mayor Jyoti Gondek praised all of the people who came out to compete on Thursday.
“This city has great public servants and people that really care about each other and their communities, and today is a really good example of that.”
She laughed, saying “I mean, my team is obviously going to win, but the other teams are good, too.”
Mayor Gondek even challenged members of Calgary’s media community to participate in bagging as many cans as they could, with reporters, camera operators, and photojournalists from LiveWire Calgary, CityNews, Global Calgary, and Postmedia doing their part as unofficial competitors.
Crushing hunger over the next 11 days
The winning Ward of the morning’s challenge gets a head start on the competition to gather the most food between Dec. 1 and 11. The winning Councillor will receive the coveted Golden Lettuce trophy, which will be awarded during the first Calgary city council meeting in January.
“I know that the Calgary community is incredibly generous, and no matter what, whether we get that golden lettuce in in January or not, we know that we’re coming out here for a good cause,” said. Coun. Mian.
Mayor Gondek said the past couple of years have been tough for Calgarians, and that the Mayor’s Food Drive this year was about banding together.
“There’s a lot of families that have hit hard times, so it’s important to make sure we can give back and help each other because these are folks just like us—anyone can be in that situation of vulnerability at any time.”
Coun. Walcott said that this was also an opportunity for people to understand where their Councillors are coming from as well, in why they are competing.
“My family would use the Toronto Food Bank all the time, so I know how important it is to have fully stocked shelves for the dignity of being able to go in and actually choose things versus just being given what’s available,” Walcott said.
“If we can contribute to that to make sure that during this holiday season, when the need is high, that we can help, I’m happy to do that at any time.”
Coun. Wong said that it was also important to recognize that not all Calgarians are obviously in need, but that need still exists.
“Whether people walking down the street look like they’re well supported, chances are they’re struggling out there, and so this is a great way to that we can contribute to all Calgarians and they don’t have to hide,” he said.
“There’s places where you can come and get the support you need, and I’m glad that we’re all pitching in.”
Among the locations that are collecting donations as part of the various ward campaigns are the Centre for Newcomers, Rossacarock Community Association, and the Briar Hill Community Association.
Calgarians are encouraged to contact their Councillors if they want to donate directly to their Ward campaign.
The Calgary Food bank is hoping that the support continues past the holiday season.
“The campaign is great, it supports us, but support needs to come throughout the year,” said Pasma.
“December is always a busy time for events, and those can be found on our website. So look there, but then throughout the year, look around in your community for ways you can donate to the food banks.”
For more details on the Mayor’s Food Drive, www.calgaryfoodbank.com/mayorsfooddrive.