Thousands of hot meals donated to Calgary health-care workers

A Calgary caterer is still trying to process the level of support she has received, after putting out a call to thank health-care workers for their tireless efforts in fighting COVID-19.

“Awe-inspiring, completely overwhelming but in the most positive way. Just seeing this huge wave of gratitude and appreciation, and a deep desire from people who want to connect and express their support,” J’Val Shuster told CBC News, describing the support.

“It’s beyond what I could have imagined.”

$55,000 raised in 5 days

Last Wednesday, Shuster announced the program in her catering company’s newsletter. Folks can donate $15 for a hot meal delivered to staff at intensive care units in Calgary’s four main hospitals.

In the five days since the newsletter slid into people’s inboxes, more than $55,000 or 3,700 care packages have been donated.

That new mail notification was music to ears of Sue MacKenzie, who was struggling to find a way to say thank you.

“People like me have been looking for opportunities to show our support for ICU staff and for health-care workers in general, and it just looked like a fantastic opportunity. How could you say ‘no’ to that?” she said.

And MacKenzie didn’t say no. She and her husband donated $750 to cover the cost of roughly one shift, or 50 staff, at an ICU unit.

Then a popular food blogger amplified the message on Twitter.

“Here’s something amazing,” Julie Van Rosendaal tweeted Sunday, introducing the program.

“As our ICUs have been pushed beyond the breaking point. So many of us feel helpless,” Van Rosendaal told CBC News in a follow up interview on Monday.

“Cooking for someone is a universal gesture of support [like] baking cookies, bringing a casserole. It makes people feel cared for and supported no matter what the circumstance. I think all of Calgary wants to bring ICU staff a batch of warm cookies and a casserole.”

After learning of the collective support, MacKenzie says she’s not surprised.

“I think that just underscores that there are people out there, like me, desperate for ways to show how much we appreciate every little thing they do. They have been on the front line for coming up on two years. The rest of us have not put ourselves in harm’s way, that way,” she said.

And to counter the politicization of COVID, masks, and passports, which has included protests in front of health-care facilities, MacKenzie added.

“There’s been all over the news some of the abuse they have been taking. Lost in that, to me, is the wonderful, wonderful work they are doing that the rest of us couldn’t replicate,” MacKenzie said, with emotion.

Devour Catering made a delivery of 50 hot meal care packages to an ICU in Calgary last weekend. (Submitted by J’Val Shuster)

Meanwhile, Shuster over at Devour Catering, said the program has really whet the appetite of people wanting to give.

“The idea has really taken off. I am just so overwhelmed by how thankful people are, and how much they really want to show their appreciation. We have received hundreds of orders and the messages people are including are just amazing,” she explained.

Here’s a little sample of those messages:

“We appreciate and support you more than you could ever know. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for all you do.”

“I see you. I thank you. Hold your head high for the great work you do every day.”

“Without their care I would not be here today. And for that I am thankful. The past 19 months have been such an unimaginable challenge for everyone, but especially those on the frontlines. I pray you know how much your caring attention means to everyone.”

J’Val Shuster is a Calgary caterer who thought people might want to thank health-care workers for their tireless efforts during COVID-19. She was right. (David Bell/CBC)

The meals are designed to be eaten right away or taken home, Shuster explained.

“I am just imagining people are exhausted and any little bit of support — nourishing your heart and nourishing your belly — can be helpful.”

And for MacKenzie, it’s about a message that can’t be repeated too often.

“If they are ever in doubt about the level of support that they have, please don’t be. Ever,” she said.

“There are lots of people out there like me, looking for ways to show them that we do care. They matter.”

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