How a cold winter changed one woman’s life

Barb Sharpe embraces the spirit of giving to those in need

Celebrating International Women’s Day

For this issue of the Rat Creek Press, we are celebrating International Women’s Day by featuring four amazing women. In February, we asked readers if they’d like to recommend local women to be featured in the March issue. We received quite a few suggestions, but only had time to write profiles on three women who either live or work in the area. 

As a bonus, writer Nazreena Anwar-Travas wrote about a woman in India who has inspired her from afar.

That said, we now have quite a few more women we’d like to feature in future issues! Please feel free to suggest other people you’d like to see us write about as well.


On a quiet little street, you can witness the magic of community spirit and generosity happening all year. Barb Sharpe started GiveBack Edmonton from her garage in 2013 after a cold snowfall and a back injury in 2012 drastically changed her life. 

Barb Sharpe (left), the creator of GiveBack Edmonton, pictured with her daughter. | Rusti L Lehay

The real driving force occurred after thrift store shopping for needed winter wear for her daughters. “I asked for a discount on what seemed like a high price for secondhand jackets and the staff told me, ‘You shouldn’t have had kids.’” 

When Sharpe shared her experience on Facebook, an avalanche of donations filled her garage. “It was my daughters who suggested we give the extra items to the homeless and those in need.”

Living in the area since 2015, her garage is regularly filled and GiveBack accepts everything except electronics and furniture, refusing the latter due to minimal storage. 

The latest upgrade in Sharpe’s grassroots movement is partnering with Peter Zuurdeeg, science officer for German Stone House, to install hempcrete insulation in the garage so her volunteers can work comfortably all year long. After people offered some pink insulation, someone suggested she use the lightweight, durable, and economical hempcrete. Then it was a no-brainer.

Sharpe says, “Farmers are throwing out extremely usable parts of the hemp crops and it is high time this versatile, alternative building material receives attention.” All parts of the hemp plant can be used and can replace everything plastic can do, which will also help keep our planet clean and sustainable. Many of the applications using concrete can be made with hempcrete, which is more sustainable and durable, lasting for many years.  

“Local industry is donating a large part of the hemp hurd [hemp core fibre], so we are insulating using large forms to allow us to pack large spaces of walls. We are building in the most inconvenient way possible; however, it is the cheapest.” Sharpe adds, “Traditional building materials to do my garage would be between $12-13,000 and the hempcrete? A mere $3,000.”

She has big plans for the future of GiveBack. “We’ll still be here bigger and better, keeping GiveBack a grassroots organization with the community receiving from the community giving.” 

It is no small coincidence that the University of Alberta will participate in the testing of construction involving hempcrete as Sharpe plans to end homelessness with small pod-like homes constructed with hemp. Hemp doesn’t burn or retain odours and insect pests are not attracted or able to live in the hemp walls. She intends to keep giving back via GiveBack for many years to come.

Her key motivation is sustainable living.“There is enough for everyone. I want to show others living within our means is possible. I took on the title of activism in 2013 and have been called a conspiracy theorist.” While she is serious and intense about her activism, Sharpe says, “I am simply taking my ideas and doing actual tasks to make things happen. People say you can’t, you can’t, you can’t regarding GiveBack and we are here six years later still doing it.”

International Women’s Day is a symbol of that ‘just do it’ attitude Sharpe lives by daily. “It guides me and my daughters. Doesn’t matter what your idea or dream is, it’s possible to be powerful women.” Sharpe also tells her daughters, “People can call you whatever they want. Only you get to decide what and who you are.”

For anyone who wishes to donate, visit GiveBackEdmonton on Facebook.


Featured Image: Barb Sharpe started GiveBack Edmonton in 2013. | Rusti L Lehay

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