May 21, 2020

Calgarians isolated by COVID-19 are grateful for free, student-led grocery delivery service

UCalgary students and community members want to make a difference for seniors and at-risk residents who are stuck at home

By way of explaining why dozens of people would voluntarily shop for and drop off groceries to strangers, a Kijiji ad for the YYC Grocery Delivery initiative reads: “Our classes are now online so we have time on our hands.” The implication is that it’s a given that students with a little more space in their days are invariably and immediately moved to help others. While that’s not the way the world generally turns, altruism is a natural for a group of UCalgary students and other community members who are finding purpose in helping Calgarians fill their fridge.

Siavash Zarezadeh, BHSc ’20, is soon-to-graduate health sciences student who established YYC Grocery with a group of friends. He credits his family’s fortunate immigrant experience with his drive to give back. “I’ve been motivated because of the generosity of Canadian society,” he says. He, along with fellow students Jack Bieber, Christian Cao, Josh Lee and Rachel Shutt, banded together early into the COVID crisis to find the best way to help people they knew would find it difficult, and even dangerous, health-wise, to go out to shop for groceries right now.

“Folks make a list online, up to 25 items,” says Zarezadeh. Others are registered to receive food hampers from various agencies. “We ask volunteers to choose who they would most like to help — it could be an elderly person, a single parent who can’t leave the house to run errands or someone with a specific health risk that might resonate with them.” Volunteers go through a free police check, and an orientation over the phone. From there, they’re matched with the individual’s shopping list and an address. The remarkable speed and efficacy with which Zarezadeh and the other organizers set up their volunteer network has empowered more than 250 grocery deliveries by about 70 active volunteers over the past six weeks.

A recent online survey for recipients about the service triggered a flood of gratitude from people all over the city. “That was great to see, very motivating for us,” says Zarezadeh, who got together with his friends on Zoom to read the responses.

If you ask the volunteers (we did), the deliverers are likewise as gratified as deliverees.

Tanmoy Newaz

Tanmoy Newaz, right, delivers a Food Bank hamper. With him is Christian Cao, YYC grocery delivery volunteer coordinator.

Adrian Shellard, for the University of Calgary

Tanmoy Newaz is a third-year honours student, cellular, molecular and microbial biology

The community is trying find its equilibrium in supporting those who are struggling right now, and maintaining public health and safety. Yes, social distancing is required, but it often does push the most vulnerable, such as the elderly, to the margins so they can’t do normal things that would put them at elevated risk of contracting COVID-19. I wanted to spend some of my own time to help mitigate that risk for them. It’s been meaningful and I’m so glad to help.

Ann Hoang

Ann Hoang in Edgemont

Adrian Shellard, for the University of Calgary

Ann Hoang, community member, picks up a CCIS food hamper for delivery to a family

I’ve been temporarily laid off from my job and, as time went on, I was feeling restless and that I wasn’t contributing. Helping in this way, being of service to others in these troubling times, has been so rewarding and positive. To date, I’ve done 18 deliveries and I’m so grateful to help.

Anne Nguyen

Anne Nguyen in Highland Park.

Adrian Shellard, for the University of Calgary

Anne Nguyen, community member, makes a YYC Groceries delivery

I’m new to Calgary, from Vancouver, and I wanted to get to know the community and make connections. This has been such a great opportunity to do something meaningful. As well, I feel so fortunate to have a job right now when so many don’t and I wanted to reach out and make a difference.