From left to right: Jouhayna Elchamy from Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, Andrew Ilnycky from Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Ayotunde Kayode from Centre for Newcomers, Sia Karimi, a student at St. Mary’s University.

Earlier this month, St. Mary’s partnered with The Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SSVP) to host an exciting day-long workshop on our historic campus centered around the theme of “Hunger” in our community. This theme was chosen due to its relevancy, as many Calgarians are struggling with the reality of food scarcity. Beyond the lack of food, the prism of hunger relates to our need to find meaning in suffering, our ability to connect with others in need, and our ability to ensure the provision of food for all.

Traditionally, the SSVP holds an “Ozanam Day” (named in honour of their founder, Blessed Frédéric Ozanam) as a day of spiritual reflection and renewal. This year, the SSVP partnered with StMU to make this event broader and more collaborative. We were thrilled to see that this partnership was a success, with nearly 100 participants. Thank you to everyone who attended this event and collaborated with community partners to best address these pressing social problems!

This event occurred on September 17, 2022 in McGivney Hall, and the day started with an optional Catholic Mass and spiritual reflection – which all guests were welcome to attend. The reality of food scarcity and how hunger affects real people in Calgary was then brought to the forefront with presentations from local non-profit organizations (both Catholic and secular) that work on the front lines of our community with marginalized populations.

This included presentations from:

• Calgary Catholic Immigration Society – Jouhayna El Chamy, Sponsorship Program Coordinator
• Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Ukrainian Catholic) – Andrew Ilnycky, Newcomer Welcoming Committee for Assistance to Evacuees from Ukraine
• Centre for Newcomers – Ayotunde Kayode, Director, Community Relationships & Mentorship
• Vibrant Communities Calgary – Sarelle Azuelos, Community Engagement and Facilitation Specialist,
• Calgary Food Bank – James McAra, CEO
• Calgary Homeless Foundation – Patricia Jones, CEO

Calgarians currently facing the reality of food scarcity were also invited to speak, and shared their own account of what food scarcity looks like for them. This includes anxiety over how they will secure their next meal, having to choose between bills and food, and keeping a detailed list on what grocery stores are running sales on select days of the week. This can mean going to Safeway to try and buy pasta on a Tuesday, Superstore to look through the meat section at 11:00 pm on a Thursday, and Walmart to find a deal on canned food over the weekend.

These presentations were divided into three core topics: See, Judge, and Act. This was intended to:

  • Show workshop participants the reality of food scarcity in Calgary
  • Help them understand what is currently being done to address this issue
  • Encourage them to work together to identify new and innovative solutions

In addition to presentations from local non-profits, there was also a  Keynote address by Derek Cook (Director of the Canadian Poverty Institute, Ambrose University) to discuss his new book The Art of Hope: Healing the Wounded City.

At the end of this workshop, attendees had come up with a variety of potential solutions to address the reality of food scarcity in Calgary and were challenged to think beyond aiding people with non-perishable food, but to think of innovative ideas to get fresh vegetables, fruit and protein that is accessible for everyone.

This event provided an opportunity to network and for people doing similar work with the same goal to find ways to work together to help newcomers – especially recent Ukrainian immigrants.  One of the biggest take-aways for participants was that food scarcity and accessibility are not considered to be solitary issues, and other challenges people face such as shelter and unemployment must be addressed.

Thank you again to The Society of St. Vincent de Paul and our panelists and attendees for making this a day to remember!