Alberta COVID-19 outreach volunteers met with positive reception

When Alberta’s COVID-19 outreach program began to reach front doors this week, volunteers say they were met with delight and appreciation.

Door-to-door volunteers began distributing kits to hard-hit neighbourhoods this week

Outreach volunteers providing COVID-19 care kits started going door to door this week in some of the hardest hit neighbourhoods in Edmonton and Calgary. (Supplied by Noor Al-Henedy)

When Alberta's COVID-19 outreach program began to reach front doors this week, volunteers say they were met with delight and appreciation.

"It's something you don't expect to see at your door, someone handing out at least two packages of self-protective gear and saying 'happy holidays,'" volunteer Hanan Noor said.

Volunteers have started distributing care kits this week directly to households in the neighbourhoods hit hardest by COVID-19 in Edmonton and Calgary. Noor participated in Edmonton on Tuesday and Wednesday, going door-to-door in the Mill Woods area.

In a difficult year where the pandemic has left people feeling isolated and in some cases facing mental health challenges, Noor felt it was important to maintain a sense of community that would remind people they weren't forgotten.

"It's important to give back to our neighbours, especially during this time," Noor said.

Noor became involved after hearing a call-out for volunteers from the Al Rashid Mosque, one of the non-profit agencies collaborating with the provincial government on this project. Premier Jason Kenney announced the program last week and its plan to provide support and resources to nine areas in Edmonton and two in Calgary that have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic.

The program sees care packages distributed with masks, sanitizers, and information in 10 languages on public health restrictions and where to receive support. In Edmonton, the program is coordinated by Red Cross staff, with other community groups contributing like the Africa Centre and the C5 North East Hub.

Kenney said volunteers would also offer access to free hotel rooms for people to self-isolate if they need.

In Edmonton, volunteers will offer help in Castle Downs, Northeast, Northgate, Woodcroft East, Woodcroft West, Jasper Place, Eastwood, Abbottsfield and Mill Woods West. In Calgary, outreach teams will work in the Upper and Lower Northeast.

Rahat Musa is another volunteer, also participating through Al Rashid Mosque, who provided COVID kits in Edmonton on Tuesday. He said the homes he visited in Castle Downs were amazed to receive this help.

Musa has lived in Edmonton for three years since coming to the city to study computer science at MacEwan University as an international student from Bangladesh. He very quickly saw the large platform Al Rashid had to provide community support and wanted to be a part of it. The pandemic has only increased his desire to give back to the community.

"I'm working to keep the community safe," Musa said. "How can I start to give back to the community? That's my sole purpose of the volunteering work I've done."

Noor and Musa both said a significant portion of the volunteers they saw contributing outreach in Edmonton this week came from the Al Rashid Mosque, which they said was unsurprising given its tight-knit community and their wide range of volunteer work each year.

The mosque already had volunteers distribute PPE and meals on Sunday to 200 seniors from all around Edmonton who attend it.

Noor Al-Henedy, director of communications at the Al Rashid Mosque, said her organization wanted to ensure they were contributing to efforts to bend the curve of COVID-19. The pain felt this year by seniors, parents, children and everyone else among the community who attends Al Rashid is felt across the board by everyone, Al-Henedy said.

"We've been largely affected by the COVID-19 situation that we're living in. But the reality is no one community lives by themselves," Al-Henedy said. "We all live together in one city, one province, one country, and we all have to do our part."

Al-Henedy isn't sure what the next steps of this outreach plan are after the holidays, but she said her organization will be ready to contribute when that time comes.