Arts on the Ave (AOTA) launched Families Helping Families at the beginning of the pandemic, and the initiative continues to help residents of Alberta Avenue.
“We match a family that has a need for food with a sponsor volunteer family that can provide that need,” explains Christy Morin, executive director of AOTA.
Volunteer families receive a grocery list from their family in need and shop twice a month for essential items. Then, they drop off the groceries with the family at home. “The beauty of it is that you’re able to grocery shop for the items that families really need,” says Morin. That can be anything from protein to guava to okra. Volunteers have a $75 budget and are committed to their sponsor family for a minimum of six months.
Currently, Families Helping Families is looking for 50 volunteer families to sponsor 50 families in need. “There has always been a very big need for food in our community,” says Morin, “because when there is poverty, there is always a food security need.” But the pandemic magnified the issue and made it more important than ever to do something.
Meals and snacks provided through school programs were unable to continue when school went online, leaving families who relied on it short. Families Helping Families grew out of that magnified need.
The program started out small, with Morin and volunteers delivering donated Bon Ton Bakery bread to churches and schools from the back of Morin’s van. Now, Families Helping Families has expanded to meet other food needs besides bread. They have helped close to 90 families, and their goal is to support 200.
The community response has been fantastic, and even families from St. Albert, Sherwood Park, and Fort Saskatchewan have volunteered to become sponsors despite the longer commute. Many families have continued to support their family in need, even after their six-month commitment ended.
One of the most valuable aspects of the initiative has been the opportunity to develop stronger bonds within the community. “Families that are sponsoring and supporting always have really cool stories of helping out and learning about the families through their groceries. Because you sort of get to know the personality of a family through grocery shopping,” says Morin.
She and her husband sponsor a family as well, and they have become friends through their biweekly chats at the door when dropping off groceries. “We get to hear about how the kids are doing in school, or what’s happening in their lives.” The family’s grocery lists also encourage Morin to try new foods that she has never bought before. She asks the mom of the household they sponsor what stews to put okra in and how to prepare guava. “It just opens up our world a little bit more.”
Life is about helping each other out when we can, says Morin, and that’s exactly what Families Helping Families has done. “The poverty level of so many families in our communities is super low,” she adds. “We can’t just pretend that it’s not there.”