When the Stitch it Forward Society of Lethbridge received a $100,000 grant from the Canadian Red Cross, those involved with the not-for-profit say they knew the money needed to be used in the community.
Society co-founder and board president Diane Herrick says they started by purchasing $25,000 worth of $50 grocery gift cards, and earlier this month, put out a call on Facebook.
“All we said was, ‘If your life has been affected by COVID-19 in any way, you can get a card. You don’t have to prove to us that you’re low income or anything, just come and get a card,'” Herrick said.
“The money is getting used in the community, just like it was meant to be.”
For its first round of grocery giveaways, Stitch it Forward opened the door for 500 people to claim gift cards over four nights at a pair of Lethbridge Save-On-Foods locations.
The stores — one in west Lethbridge and one on the north side — stayed open an hour later than usual, just for the event.
Store manager Harry Randhawa said his staff were thrilled to take part.
“When that was brought to the team members, they were very happy and they decided to extend their shifts from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m.,” Randhawa said.
Cashier Paige Morrison said for her and her coworkers, it was a no-brainer.
“We were asked around to stay later and most of us said, ‘Yeah of course, we’re always happy to help,'” she said.
The socially-distanced lineup stretched around the store Thursday night before volunteers started letting participants in at 10 p.m.
More than 160 people were signed up to receive gift cards on the fourth of four nights.
From laundry detergent to bananas to ground beef, whatever the reason, shoppers were happy to temporarily feel pressure lifted from their wallets.
Student Anna Nikolova said she saw the post on Facebook and immediately signed up.
“Groceries are always welcome. I’m just a starving grad student,” Nikolova said with a laugh.
Stitch it Forward volunteer Andie Hanson said she was happy to see the positive response that followed throughout the week.
“People are so grateful — we’ve had many people cry,” Hanson said. “I wish I could give hugs, but with COVID it’s not really a thing you can do.”
Herrick says in total, $16,700 in groceries was given away.
Stitch it Forward was recently granted charitable status, and the co-founder said this week’s giveaway has allowed the organization to grow even more.
“When we started really counting our volunteers a year ago, we had 20,” Herrick said. “Now we’re over 100, and then we’ve gotten probably 30 new ones doing this project.”
The society plans to give away even more grocery gift cards in the coming months.