Calgary woman offers compassion, dignity and first aid to city's less fortunate

Jennifer Rapuano-Kremenik believes her non-profit organization, Harvest Hills Cares Calgary, is filling a gap among the city's less fortunate. She visits homeless encampments to provide basic needs and medical care because she says everyone is worthy of dignity, respect and compassion.

Former army medic visits homeless encampments to offer medical care, basic needs

Former army medic visits homeless encampments to offer medical care, compassion and dignity

4 months ago
Duration 3:01
"We've turned a blind eye, as a society, to the homeless, addicted, even the elderly. And it's not right." said Jennifer Rapuano-Kremenik, founder of Harvest Hills Cares Calgary

Calgarian Jennifer Rapuano-Kremenik says there's not much her non-profit organization, Harvest Hills Cares Calgary, won't do to help the city's less fortunate.

"The only thing we won't do is pay for bail," Rapuano-Kremenik said with a smile and a chuckle.

Nor, she says, will the group give out cash. 

But she says she and her team of volunteers will drive a senior to get a prescription filled and paid for, enrol a struggling student into a course, pay someone's utility bill, and more often than not, drive around to different homeless encampments to drop off food, clothing and other essentials.

  • WATCH ABOVE | A former army medic visits homeless encampments to offer medical care, compassion and dignity

"Everybody deserves to be treated with dignity and respect," said Rapuano-Kremenik.

"Just because they had a bad go at something doesn't mean they're horrible or terrible people."

On the day CBC News caught up with her, the former army medic was about to change someone's bandages at a northeast Calgary encampment.

Jennifer Rapuano-Kremenik, who runs the non-profit group called Harvest Hills Cares Calgary, changes a dressing on the leg of a man who lives in a homeless encampment. (Colleen Underwood/CBC)

Rapuano-Kremenik says she first met Larry a few weeks ago, when she spotted him leaning on a broomstick, having trouble walking. She quickly pulled over in her Honda Civic, grabbed her first-aid kit and asked if he needed help.

Larry told her his legs were infected from a bad bike scrape, but he didn't feel comfortable going to emergency. So she peeled off his socks, cleaned his wounds and bandaged him up on the spot.

Since then, she's had to track him down to change his dressing — just one of the challenges Rapuano-Kremenik faces, reconnecting with people whom city bylaw pushes along or moves for safety concerns.

Larry says her efforts are rare and welcome. 

"When you are not used to having somebody there care about you, and then all of sudden there is somebody there who actually cares, you can tell," said Larry, as his eyes teared up and his voice started to shake.

Mission for mom

Rapuano-Kremenik started the non-profit organization the day the city got shut down with the pandemic. She did it with the help of some generous donations from high profile Calgarians.

She thought a lot of people were going to need help getting groceries, or to pay their bills, especially the city's less fortunate.

Larry says he avoided seeking treatment for his infected legs because he says medical staff don't always treat him with respect. He was relieved when Rapuano-Kremenik cleaned his wounds and changed his bandages. (Colleen Underwood/CBC)

The 43-year-old says she was inspired to help others because of her own personal experiences. 

She says her mom was a drug addict for years and died in 2014. She says she always felt guilty for ignoring the problem and not doing more to help. She now wants people to know everyone is worthy of dignity, respect and compassion.

"So many people are struggling silently and … need a hand up, need a step up, need to be treated like human beings."

Overwhelmed by need

Rapuano-Kremenik drives around the city with a car full of bottled water, fresh fruit, baked goods and snacks.

She meets up with Randy, who has built a tent out of several tarps in a bluff of trees beside a wheat field. It's a very elaborate abode with a walled off area made out of branches, and a toilet made out of a stack of tires.

"I don't consider myself homeless," said Randy.

Randy says he met  Rapuano-Kremenik a few weeks ago and is touched by her visits and the kindness she shows.

"I've gotten some very expensive gifts in my life, but the $3 socks is the one that made me break down and thank the Lord that there are still good people out there," said Randy.

Rapuano-Kremenik's car is filled with food, water and other essentials, provided through private donations, to offer to the city's less fortunate. (Colleen Underwood/CBC)

At the next encampment, on the side of a busy roadway, she meets three new people, who are given strawberries and muffins.

It's also where she runs into Larry to change his bandages. 

"I am overwhelmed ... however, I am going to keep going because I have people who rely on the food hampers we provide, the gas we put in vehicles, the medication we pay for every month. And like Larry said, if it wasn't for me coming out and changing his bandage, he wouldn't be able to walk on his legs," said Rapuano-Kremenik.

Fill the Gap

Rapuano-Kremenik says there are a lot of agencies doing good work. But not everyone who needs the help can access it because they can't get around, or they fear being discriminated against, or there's a lack of trust with different people in charge.

"If we can help fit into our own little niche and help as many people as we can, why not?" said Rapuano-Kremenik. "We literally help fill in the gaps."

Rapuano-Kremenik stops by a homeless encampment in northeast Calgary to ask if they need any food or other essentials. (Colleen Underwood/CBC)

She also says she knows what it's like to live near the poverty line. 

She says she suffers from a medical condition where her joints frequently dislocate, and she is unable to work so she receives Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH). 

She says she has good days and bad days and spends most of her good days helping others or appealing for donations on social media.

"For far too long, we've turned a blind eye as a society to the homeless, addicted, even the elderly, and it's not right when we have it within our capacity to help people."


Colleen Underwood has been a reporter/editor with CBC news for more than 10 years filing stories from across southern Alberta for radio, television and online. Follow her on Twitter @cbccolleen.