AMA staff helped out at local Alberta food banks

Alberta Strong: How AMA and Our Members Came Together During the Pandemic

By Misty Harris, Cailynn Klingbeil, Carly Peters and Kellie Davenport

Alberta is no stranger to struggle, having faced floods, fire, devastating storms and economic hardship—sometimes all in a single year. Grit and resilience are in our blood. But COVID-19 is presenting a different kind of challenge, with ripples leaving no corner of our lives untouched.

To get through, we need to continue rallying like never before. The ongoing fight against the virus is a collective effort, requiring everyone’s cooperation, compassion and action. “The pandemic has caused unspeakable heartbreak for countless Alberta families, but it’s also reinforced our tenacity and courage,” says Don Smitten, president and CEO of AMA. “Community spirit and a commitment to one another have gotten Alberta through the last six months, and it’s what will keep us strong going forward.”

From the earliest days of COVID-19’s arrival, AMA has made the community’s wellbeing the keystone of our every effort. We found new ways to safely serve members, including expanding our online services. We developed a province-wide initiative in support of vulnerable Albertans. And with your help, recognizing the impact this event would have on our local economy and particularly on small business, we formed a powerful online community in support of local growers and producers.

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Frontline workers get
a LOVEPIZZA delivery

AMA members Braede Harris and Gavin Fedorak, owners of LOVEPIZZA, were keen to do their part when COVID-19 shut down much of Alberta—even as their two restaurants in Edmonton and St. Albert were hit hard by the changes. The couple focused on feeding frontline workers and people most in need, like families staying at Edmonton’s Ronald McDonald House. Harris was heading there when she blew a tire.

While AMA’s centres temporarily closed for the first time in our 94-year history, tow truck operators continued to respond to roadside calls and make sure motorists were safe on the road.
“I knew I was in good hands when I was talking to customer service,” says Harris. “And when the tow truck arrived, the driver made me feel safe with physical distancing, as well as a speedy tire change. I was back on the road to the pizza shop in no time.”

Throughout the pandemic, AMA tow truck operators and roadside responders have adopted new safety protocols. Measures like physical distancing and sanitizing vehicles and equipment are helping to ensure community safety—and keep the province moving.

Learn more about Braede, Gavin and many other inspiring AMA members in our This is AMA video series

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Community cleanup in Edmonton

In March, the Alberta government imposed restrictions to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Schools and most businesses closed—even AMA temporarily shut its doors to walk-in traffic. Concerts and sporting events, including the NHL playoffs, were postponed. More than 330,000 Albertans lost their jobs during the first two months of the shutdown.

As a result, more people started turning to food banks—the Edmonton Food Bank alone reported record levels of demand with more than 25,000 people needing help in March. Other charities, such as Canadian Blood Services and Meals on Wheels, struggled for donations and volunteers as people isolated at home. Seniors, the most vulnerable to the virus, suffered from loneliness because physical-distancing measures meant their families were unable to visit.

“So much was taken from Albertans by COVID-19; our staff wanted to give something back,” says Jeff Kasbrick, vice-president of government and stakeholder relations for AMA. “Even small gestures of kindness make a big difference during tough times.”

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A tow truck birthday greeting

To do our part, we launched AMA Cares, a program to connect employees with meaningful opportunities to help others. Staff across the province donated blood (enough to save 84 lives); packaged hampers for the food bank and made deliveries for Meals on Wheels (332 hours donated); made social “check-in” calls to isolated seniors; and led community clean-ups (95 bags of trash collected in
18 neighbourhoods).

As weeks grew into months, COVID-19 not only affected the basic needs of Albertans, it also restricted the ways people could celebrate their personal milestones—graduations, birthdays, anniversaries—so virtual parties and drive-by parades became the norm. To help bring what joy we could to these special days, AMA launched tow truck birthday greetings throughout the summer. Celebrants of all ages got home visits from an AMA tow truck—complete with flashing lights and honking horn—plus a gift and card.

“Seeing our members’ faces light right up just makes my day,” says Dustin Burke, tow truck operator. “Just because we’re practicing physical distancing, doesn’t mean we need to feel distant. As one member told me: ‘AMA has always found a way to be a part of the community.’”

Since reopening centre doors in May, we’ve introduced new measures to help keep you safe:

• Entry limited to a set number of guests, based on the size of the centre
• Plexiglass barriers at counters to allow for physical distancing
• Floor markings to help keep your distance in lineups
• Plentiful hand sanitizer and frequent cleaning
• Temporary suspension of some self-serve products

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Masks by Sew Here’s
the Thing

They say a stitch in time saves nine. The expression rings especially true today—though “nine” is really underselling it. Last year, AMA member Heather Shaw and Joanna MacDonald launched Sew Here’s the Thing, a program providing essential goods to women’s shelters. The pair and their team of 17 sew personal items, like blankets and pyjamas, for victims of human trafficking and other abuse.

When COVID-19 hit, they recognized an even greater need. “In early March, it looked like we were living in a sci-fi movie. That’s when we started making face masks,” says Shaw. At press time, the team had sewn and donated nearly 2,000 reusable masks (shown below) to shelters across Alberta and Canada. Their efforts were also supported by sales of additional masks; profits went toward the creation of more inventory to donate. Adds Shaw: “The sales remind me just how generous and kind Canadians truly are.”

Meet the people working to solve food insecurity in Alberta

Just before 1 p.m. every day, Banff musician and AMA member Heather Jean Jordan climbs the belfry steps at St. George-in-the-Pines. In the town below, folks scramble to open their windows and balcony doors. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the singer-songwriter has played the church’s set of 11 bells, the biggest of which tips the scales at over a ton.

“Music connects us,” she says, adding that people from across North America watch livestreams of the daily performance. Many have reached out to express how the music makes them feel hopeful and less alone. Jordan’s cross-genre lineup ranges from classical and folk to the Beatles and Broadway tunes. The sound of the chimes carries deep into the community, and seems to touch everyone with their mystical sound. “The bells are an incredibly powerful instrument of beauty.”

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Chef Brad Smoliak grills up some Atlantic lobster

Small businesses, growers and producers were among the hardest hit by the pandemic, with many facing supply chain issues, staffing shortages and service disruptions. Even as COVID-19 appeared to be loosening its grip in June, it was clear that the future, and economic recovery, was unclear. Summer, too, wasn’t going to be easy—with road trips and visits with family and friends discouraged to keep the virus at bay.

That’s why in May, we created AMA’s Backyard BBQ, an online community to virtually bring people together in a positive and supportive way, as well as promote the local economy. More than 30 small businesses, producers and growers are BBQ partners and all of them are “paying it forward” by helping us to support food banks across the province.

“With more people staying home this summer, a virtual barbecue felt like the perfect way to help Albertans stay safe and support local at the same time,” says Jane Flower, vice-president of brand and member experience for AMA. “We’ve been blown away by our members’ passion for standing with the province’s food industry when it needs it most.”

The unique Facebook group is a place for Albertans to share recipes, discover barbecue hacks, listen to celebrity-curated playlists, and get advice from some of the province’s top food experts. Click here to join the community and fill your grill.