May 14, 2019
For some with autism, just going to the grocery store to pick up some essentials can be overwhelming. Needing extra help in the form of collecting donations from a food bank can be even more challenging. That’s why Autism Calgary has opened the doors of a new resource for those with autism and their families. It’s called the Community Pantry and Calgary Co-op is proud to be backing it.
“For a lot of our members going to a food bank would be quite difficult because of the sensory challenges and the communication challenges someone with autism might face,” explains Meghan Konditi, Community Development Specialist at Autism Calgary. “It can be difficult to bring them to any kind of new place, particularly one that might be loud or crowded. Even just filling out the paperwork can be too much to cope with.”
Autism Calgary’s Community Pantry started in November 2018 as a way to help families in need, who also deal with autism. The Pantry is stocked with food and household essentials, making it an easy and familiar place to find necessities.
“We have one client who struggles to leave his home at all, and for him to go grocery shopping is just so overwhelming for him. But he said he heard about the pantry and thought that might be easier. It still took him about two and a half weeks to work up the courage to come, but he did. Now he’s come several times and it means he can get out of his apartment and get food for himself.”
Co-op provided funds for staffing and volunteer management to run the day-to-day aspects of the Pantry, as well as Co-op gift cards so volunteers can keep the shelves stocked, and even grocery baskets to make the shopping experience more authentic. Gluten and dairy free foods are available for those with dietary restrictions too.
“Without Co-op’s support we wouldn’t be able to do the Pantry at all. Co-op is basically providing almost all the food in the pantry, having given us almost $40,000 in gift cards, and that’s just amazing.”
At the Community Pantry, those with autism aren’t just getting a helping hand when it comes to food, they’re also gaining valuable life experience. Konditi says Autism Calgary has several volunteers with autism helping to run it.
“We actually have a number of adults with autism that come with their aides and they go out and do the grocery shopping for the Pantry using those gift cards from Co-op. It’s been a great life skills development opportunity for them. They’re learning independence, getting job skills by having this role, and they’re practicing grocery shopping for themselves. Families are really appreciative of this experience overall.”
Konditi adds that many of the families accessing Autism Calgary’s services, including the Community Pantry, often have other challenges they’re also dealing with. Many are newcomers to Canada, some have health problems, some are also caring for elderly relatives, while still others only know a few words of English.
“Some people in our community are going through a lot and it can easily become overwhelming. So we are very grateful to Co-op because this allows us to help these families a bit more. Plus, it can be very expensive to care for someone with autism. A lot of families say this is a big comfort to them, and even if they aren’t using the Community Pantry now, they’re glad to know it’s available if they do need it someday.”
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