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Calgary Cares: Helping seniors get the groceries they need during COVID-19 pandemic

Calgary Cares: YYC Grocery Delivery helping Calgary’s most vulnerable
WATCH: A University of Calgary student wanted to give back by delivering groceries to seniors and vulnerable residents. But the small initiative soon turned into so much more. Lauren Pullen reports.

It was supposed to be crunch time — preparing for final exams and getting ready to graduate.

But university, along with almost everything else in the world, was turned upside down with the COVID-19 pandemic.

With classes shifted online and free time on his hands, University of Calgary health sciences student Siavash Zarezadeh wanted to find a way to give back.

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He decided to post an ad online, offering to pick up and deliver groceries for any seniors or vulnerable Calgarians who could not make it to the store.

“I was feeling restless and extremely hopeless staying at home,” Zarezadeh said.

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“Everything that was happening with COVID-19, I felt the responsibility to give back to my community in a way that I was able. As a healthy young individual, I thought [what a] better way than to deliver groceries for those who can’t leave the house.

“I was aiming to do one grocery pickup a week but it didn’t turn out that way,” Zarezadeh chuckled.

Demand quickly grew above and beyond what one person could handle, so he turned to his friends and classmates Jack Bieber and Christian Cao to form YYC Grocery Delivery, a free grocery delivery service for those at high risk.

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One of the first steps was creating an easy-to-use website, which Bieber took on. All people have to do is click “place an order,” then fill out their information and enter their grocery list.

“It didn’t take long to get off the ground, so we’re really happy with where it’s gotten,” Bieber said.

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“It’s so empowering for us as university students to realize that we can do something on a scale like this. Really, all it takes is an idea.”

Now the group has upwards of 60 volunteers who deliver groceries from the store to your front door.

The delivery service is free and all customers have to do is e-transfer the amount on the receipt before their groceries are dropped off.

“I feel really happy to see that it is actually making a difference,” volunteer Nicole Maseja said.

“I have to go out myself to get my own groceries. The way I look it, I can get everything I need for my home then also pick up a few extra items for someone who really needs it and appreciates it and may struggle to get it otherwise.”

For recipients like health-care worker Stefani Bichsel, who works at a hospital, the service allows her to safely stay home in self-isolation while not on the job.

“It feels amazing. It’s so nice to have them come to the door,” Bichsel said.

“It’s so heartwarming for us to see order after order coming with people so appreciative,” Bieber said. “It makes us really remember why we’re doing this and who we’re reaching out to.”

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The push is now to get more volunteers to be able to help even more people.

You can sign up to volunteer or receive the delivery service on the group’s website.

The volunteers vow to continue doing deliveries as long as the service is needed.

“If you’re someone at risk, if you’re a senior who doesn’t want to go out of the house, we want you to get in touch with us,” Zarezadeh said.