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Poverty, Homelessness and COVID-19: Boyle Street Community Services' Response to the Global Pandemic

The C5 Hub Offering Light Through the Darkness of COVID-19

Boyle Street Community Services works in a ground-breaking partnership with five other non-profit agencies to operate the C5 Northeast Hub, which provides employment, family, and housing services, and programs for children and seniors. Our partners at the Hub include the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers, Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society, Norwood Child and Family Resource Centre, and Terra Centre. Through the Hub, we meet the need for services in North East Edmonton.

In our fifth and final blog post in our “Poverty, Homelessness and COVID-19: Boyle Street Community Services' Response to the Global Pandemic” series, we interviewed Felicia Wilson, the Family Resource Network Operations Support at the C5 Northeast Hub, to give us an idea of how the Hub has been responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the pandemic was declared mid-March 2020, like most organizations, the Hub closed its doors and transitioned to online programming. While adapting to new forms of service delivery has been a challenge for both staff and clients, the Hub continues to innovate by developing new programs to meet the needs of North East Edmonton.

“A lot of our programs that would have otherwise been in person transitioned online,” explains Wilson. “Zoom was utilized a lot and we began offering our Health for Two and other parent education programs through this platform. We also transitioned our parent-child programs and youth groups to online platforms.”

When schools closed to in-person learning in March, it was extremely difficult for the Hub’s clients. Many clients were faced with language barriers and found it very hard to interact with their children’s schools through online portals. Additionally, many clients did not have access to the technology that they needed to participate in online schooling. In response, the Hub organized a successful laptop drive that saw 500 computers or tablets handed out to clients who needed them for schoolwork or to stay connected with loved ones. The Hub also offered homework help for students over video-conferencing  which was appreciated by parents who already had their hands full during the lockdown. 

NE Hub Client receiving a laptop from the laptop drive
NE Hub Client receiving a laptop from the laptop drive

During the lockdown, the Hub remained open in one crisis response capacity: providing food to those who desperately needed it. In response to rising food insecurity in Edmonton, the Hub staff began to brainstorm ways to provide supplies to clients who were facing barriers to accessing food; this is how the Pantry Program was born. 

The Hub is equipped with plenty of food storage capacity in its community kitchen. The facility has several large fridges and freezers that can store large quantities of food, which were organized into hampers for clients in need during the lockdown. 

“It started off with 25 families in April and grew rapidly,” explains Wilson. “Once we secured funding for the program, it grew exponentially from there. We now deliver 1100 hampers monthly to those in need.”

Because of the Hub’s unique storage capacity, staff have been able to provide families with fresh produce, eggs, milk, baby supplies, pet food, non-perishable goods, and even menstrual hygiene products. Donations were coming from a variety of sources, including the United Way, the Edmonton Food Bank and the Islamic Relief Society, Grupo Bimbo, Belmont Sobey’s and H & W Produce.

A pantry program food hamper
A pantry program food hamper

Organizing and distributing these hampers was not without its challenges, however. The doors to the Hub were not built with the ability to transfer an entire palette of food through their frames. As such, staff had to create human chains, where they would unload an entire palette of food items by handing them off one by one to be stored in the community kitchen, located at the back of the Hub. Another challenge is recruiting and organizing enough volunteer drivers to deliver the hampers. 

Volunteer pantry program driver
Volunteer pantry program driver

Ever since phase two of reopening began in June, the Hub has continued to respond to the evolving needs of the community. When they opened their doors to the public, they immediately opened their Employment Hub. They found that many of their clients were experiencing unemployment or underemployment because of the pandemic, and once staff had the opportunity to reconfigure their space, they were able to provide clients with the help they needed to find work. 

During the relaunch, the Hub was happy to provide their Family Resource Network programs again in person. The Network includes parent-education programs, parent-child activities and youth programs. Whenever possible, the Hub has been providing safe, open-air activities, including youth programming in the garden, organized sports, and even a field trip to Jurassic Forest theme park in Gibbons. As we move into cooler weather, the Hub plans to continue to offer safe open-air activities, like having bonfires in the parking lot. When it is not possible to be outside, programs will continue to run online, or in-person with close cohorts. They will also offer programming where individuals can be physically distanced at tables. The Hub is also looking at scheduling people into specific timeslots during the day to prevent having too many bodies in the building. The health and safety of the staff and clients are at the forefront of any decision that is made regarding programming at the Hub. 

A child enjoying open-air activities organized by the NE Hub
A child enjoying open-air activities organized by the NE Hub

The pandemic effects Hub clients just as it affects everyone living through such strange times. 

“A lot of mental health challenges have been surfacing for our clients,” explains Wilson. “Many of our clients are finding that they have been removed from natural supports in the community. For instance, clients will often utilize the hub, the libraries and the recreation centres throughout the day. Now that there are limitations on how many people can access those services, our clients are often getting left behind. Employment has been another huge blow for our clients. I’ve seen people crying, wondering if they are going to be able to afford rent or end up on the street. People are scared.”

On top of all of this, northeast Edmonton has seen its fair share of COVID-19 cases. Clients have been facing the reality that they are living in a higher-risk zone for contracting COVID.

“People are hyper-vigilant during these times,” says Wilson. “It’s a collective trauma that we are all going through.”

To add some light to dark times, Wilson ended the interview by sharing a story of hope and happiness: 

“We have a volunteer who is neurodiverse and lives in NE Edmonton. She would normally go to the Adaptabilities program, but during its closure during the pandemic, she found herself at a bit of a loss on things to keep herself busy. She loves to volunteer and would often find herself at the Humane Society and Reuse Centre. When she heard about the Pantry Program at the NE Hub, she signed up as a volunteer. Organizing and wrapping hampers for families in need gave her purpose in her life, and brought her a sense of community during an uncertain time. It brought her meaning, and the Hub certainly appreciated the helping hand!”

A volunteer packing a food hamper at the NE Hub
A volunteer packing a food hamper at the NE Hub

Note: The Hub is always looking for more volunteer drivers for the pantry program, and those interested can contact Wilson by emailing her at


"Poverty, Homelessness and COVID-19: Boyle Street Community Services' Response to the Global Pandemic" is a five-part blog series highlighting Boyle Street Community Services' response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including how we're providing services, how we're protecting ourselves and others, and how we're working hard to keep our community safe, and well-served.


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