For many Calgary families, Christmas is a time of togetherness with shared meals and board games to bond over.
But not every family.
This year Maxim Olshevsky, managing director of Astra Group and People First Developments, is trying to ensure that at least a few more have access to the simple pleasures of a Christmas dinner – and a good game of Monopoly.
“It’s no secret that the cost of living has increased exponentially across our nation, and our city is affected the same way,” Olshevsky said.
“The initiative between our group of companies and our business partners to donate the gift of a Christmas dinner and Monopoly board game to 85 families in our city, will alleviate some of the stress that perhaps comes with the additional costs that all the families have to bear.”
The dinners and games are being distributed by two Calgary charities: Made by Momma, which serves families facing adversity and crisis through healthy prepared meals, and the Ukrainian Association of Calgary, which will be helping out newcomers from that nation who are most in need.
About half of the 85 meals this year will go to Made by Momma families, and half to the Ukrainian Association of Calgary families. The goal, said Olshevsky was to increase that to between 100 and 200 next year.
He said that the addition of Monopoly this year to the donation was due to the special place that the game has in his heart. It was one of the games that he said he played as a kid, and that he still uses lessons from today in his own capacity as a successful Calgary property developer.
“You can teach kids a lot about money management, planning, and of course, being strategic in terms of how you approach life,” he said.
“The amount of lessons that I’ve learned in this game that helped me in business, it’s exponential. It sounds silly, but I still use the same principles today.”
Taking the burden off
Made by Momma Vice President Joanna Low said that her charity helps to alleviate the burdens that Calgarians face all year round, but that that need grows during the winter and closer to Christmas.
“We have programs that run all year round, but this time of year there are extra challenges for them, and this takes one burden off that they can then hopefully celebrate together as a family,” she said.
She said that the families selected for the Christmas dinner and Monopoly donation were chosen the same way that all of the families who receive help are chosen throughout the year.
Families can self-refer, or can be referred from over 125 partner agencies.
“So whether it’s doctors, social workers, community agencies, they send referrals to us so that we can make sure those that need the help are receiving that support,” she said.
As for what is in the Christmas dinner hamper, Low said it was full of everything good.
“We have a full Christmas feast here. So they have their turkeys, buns, all the fixings, vegetables—everything’s fresh, and we’re ready for these families to have a truly amazing meal,” she said.
She said that the donation of Monopoly was in line with what Made by Momma likes to do for its clients. Board games and books are regular parts of the support they give.
“We’re big on family and early literacy bringing people together, and so it’s not just about the food, it’s about all of those essential needs and bringing them together and getting them set up,” Low said.
Helping Calgary’s Ukrainian newcomers
Olshevsky, who migrated to Canada from Ukraine as a child, said that he was hoping to make a positive impact for other Ukrainians seeking safety in Canada.
“I think it’s crucial for the new Ukrainian newcomers to feel welcome in our country, and to be welcomed in our city,” he said.
Part of that, he said, would be to give them something that most Canadians take for granted as part of a Christmas meal, but that many Ukrainians have probably never tried.
“Nothing says welcome more than a Christmas dinner with pumpkin pie, which I’m sure most of them haven’t tried yet,” Olshevsky said.
“I certainly haven’t had pumpkin pie until I came to Canada, and of course a monopoly game. So I hope that that will create a little bit of a positive impact when they arrive and have a good Christmas this holiday.”
He said that as a company, the value of supporting community is one of those core values that drives himself, and his staff.
“I think for everybody within our company it’s quite important to support the community that we are in, and of course the name People First Developments, we want to give back as much as we can.”
“It’s quite crucial to focus not just on capitalism, but also on social good.”