By Kristy Koehler, April 5 2020—
Three University of Calgary students are helping out their communities by offering a free grocery delivery service for at-risk Calgarians unable to visit stores themselves. They’re only asking for one thing — more volunteers.
Siavash Zarezadeh, Jack Bieber and Christian Cao are all enrolled in the Bachelor of Health Sciences program at UCalgary. During the COVID-19 pandemic and with their classes moving online, they wanted to find a way to put their extra time to use and help out their fellow Calgarians.
Zarezadeh put up a post on Kijiji, offering to pick up necessities for immunocompromised people, seniors, health care workers or anyone else who was unable to make it to the grocery store.
“I was a little bit overwhelmed with the response so I immediately asked my two best friends — Christian and Jack — to help me create some kind of system to handle the volume and gather some more volunteers,” said Zarezadeh.
After exhausting their friends list, a well-timed post on the UCalgary subreddit helped to recruit a few more willing folks. Tech-savvy Bieber set up a website and YYC Grocery Delivery was born.
Since last week, they’ve made 24 deliveries, averaging two to three trips each day. Right now, they have 22 registered volunteers. Their goal is to have 40–50 volunteers and increase their number of deliveries to five or six every day.
The students were motivated by some very personal connections.
“My mom is immunocompromised and that was part of my motivation,” said Zarezadeh. “I hated being on the sidelines. There are so many people that are in a tough situation. I’m young, I’m healthy and I thought I should be doing more to help other Calgarians.”
For Bieber, it was knowing that his own neighbours were immunocompromised and were having a hard time getting necessities.
“I’m also very close to people who are anxious about this whole situation and they really had a difficult time going out to get groceries and it was something that was preventing them from living their daily lives. So when Siavash proposed this to me, I jumped at the opportunity,” he said.
Cao said that when he went to the store to get his own groceries, he noticed that fellow shoppers were fearful and anxious and he knew he could help.
“There’s older people putting themselves at risk by going out,” he said. “Since I’m living alone, I’m not putting any of my family at risk by doing this.”
The men acknowledge the risk they’re taking, and that they’re also asking volunteers to take a risk, but believe that grocery stores are doing a good job with their sanitation programs and that people are largely observing physical distancing protocols when they do go out.
“There’s always a concern, but we always push for ourselves and our volunteers to adhere to Alberta Health Services social distancing guidelines,” said Cao. “We also try to minimize the risk of exposure by making sure that volunteers aren’t taking more than one or two trips per week.”
“We try to be very clear to our volunteers that there is a risk involved and that by doing this you’re willing to take on that risk,” said Zarezadeh. “We highly recommend that they have a discussion with their family and anybody else that they’re living with to let them know that they’re doing this and make sure that they have the approval and support of everyone in the household.”
The service offered by YYC Grocery Delivery is no-contact. They drop off orders in a pre-arranged location and accept payment via etransfer.
Still, there’s not only a health risk for helping, but Zarezadeh, Bieber and Cao are taking on a financial risk as well. They pre-pay for the orders and then send a photo of the receipt to their customers after the shop. There’s no cost for their service, but tips are welcomed to help pay for gas and the students are putting aside their own tips so that they can reimburse volunteers in the event that someone doesn’t pay.
But Zarezadeh isn’t too worried about that. He says he trusts his community.
“We have yet to have anyone not pay,” he said, noting that he speaks with customers on the phone, not only to understand their needs and arrange a delivery time, but to build a level of trust.
So far, 95 per cent of the volunteers are UCalgary students. But the group is happy to take on any volunteer who wants to help.
“We want to have a significant impact on our communities and help a sizeable amount of people,” said Zarezadeh.
YYC Grocery Delivery is taking orders online for those who need assistance with groceries. For anyone wanting to help, contact information is available on their website and the students are standing by, waiting on more assistance.