Calgary Cares: Sports club provides lifeline for families during COVID-19 pandemic

Click to play video 'Calgary Cares: Soccer Without Boundaries takes on new challenge during COVID-19 crisis' Calgary Cares: Soccer Without Boundaries takes on new challenge during COVID-19 crisis
WATCH: He came to Canada for a better life after fleeing genocide in Rwanda and started a soccer club in Alberta to help at-risk kids. Now, the founder of Soccer Without Boundaries is taking on a whole new challenge, in the fight against COVID-19. Lauren Pullen reports. – Apr 9, 2020

Jean Claude Munyezamu has lived through what most Canadians could never imagine.

He moved to Canada 22 years ago from Rwanda, a survivor of that country’s genocide. He vividly remembers the war zone and how he feared for his life.

His sense of safety returned after he immigrated to Alberta but he also saw an incredible need: a safe place for Calgary’s at-risk youth.

So, 10 years ago, he formed Soccer Without Boundaries, a community-run non-profit to give kids a safe place to play, teach them the skills of the game and help some secure a spot on one of Calgary’s competitive clubs, while assisting with any fees.

The soccer club quickly turned into much more than just a training ground for kids.

Not long after launching, the group also started offering programs for new immigrants and assistance for some of Calgary’s most vulnerable families. A neighbour-helping-neighbour community was born.

Story continues below advertisement

READ MORE: Calgary charity gets thousands of pounds of restaurant food, donations tied to businesses closing amid COVID-19 crisis

The soccer sessions and those programs all had to be cancelled in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the need only intensified.

“I would say we started this food bank by accident,” Munyezamu said.

READ MORE: Calgary volunteers sew masks for medical community amid COVID-19 pandemic

Dozens of families called Munyezamu, saying they had no way to get food. It wasn’t safe to take multiple buses to the food bank, or they lost their income when they lost their jobs. They didn’t understand the health information coming out as it wasn’t in their first language. They didn’t know how to access government services for any sort of financial help.

“Among us, my group, we can speak 14 languages. We can serve this community very well,” Munyezamu said.

READ MORE: Alberta RV dealer donates trailers to health-care workers needing to self-isolate away from families

He now heads out every morning to buy groceries in bulk. Another volunteer then separates those groceries into family-sized food packages. Then Munyezamu and a small group of volunteers distributes them to more than 200 families.

Story continues below advertisement

The group relies solely on donations.

“Yesterday I didn’t know that I would have [money to buy] food for today,” Munyezamu said.

So far they have been able to provide enough food, but there is a dire need for kids in the community.

“None of them have access to computers. We need laptops. School started this week and school is online.”

Anyone who can help is asked to reach out to the group in its Facebook page.

Munyezamu says the group will continue to help as long as there is a need.

He is happily paid in smiles and thank-yous and knows every donation and every volunteer hour make a difference.

“You are changing the world. When this is over, we will be stronger than before.”