Keeping Active During the Pandemic

ECF grant helps Sport Central purchase bikes to keep low-income families active during COVID-19

For Sport Central, everything was going smoothly until the pandemic made them pump the brakes.

“We were on track to help more kids this year than ever in our history until COVID-19 hit our city,” said Sheldon Oleksyn, executive director of Sport Central, an organization dedicated to helping needy kids get involved in sports.

“Sport Central has never in the past 28 years been closed for more than a few days at a time. We were officially closed to the public on March 16th like most businesses and charities.”

With most of their volunteers being senior and in the vulnerable sector, Oleksyn walked a tightrope to keep everyone safe and still get sporting equipment to the communities that need it.

On Monday, April 27, Edmonton Community Foundation (ECF) helped Sport Central to purchase bikes with a $15,000 grant through its COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund (RRF). ECF began strategic COVID-19 granting on March 19 and established the RRF on March 25. The fund was established with $500,000 of ECF’s discretionary dollars and has doubled its impact, thanks to ECF’s generous donors and community partners.

“Sport Central was getting requests for bikes for children for whom other activities were suddenly unavailable,” says Craig Stumpf-Allen, ECF’s Director of grants and Community Engagement. “Our grant helped purchase bikes, addressing the demand and giving kids an important – and safe – activity.”

ECF’s support enabled Sport Central to fill an essential service in the community.

“When Alberta Health stated that bicycles and those who sold and repaired them were an essential service, preparations were started to eventually distribute them to families being referred to us by over 200 agencies across the city,” Oleksyn said.

At this point, Oleksyn and staff went into work mode. On May 4, the team started to create procedures, inform agencies and made sure everyone had personal protective equipment and were trained in the new existence.

“We’re just at phase one of reopening and we are trying to do curbside pickup,” Sports Central bike mechanic Jim Harvey told Global News on May 8. “It’s a slow start but there is an enormous wave of demand sitting in our request log already, so our volunteers are working hard to get as many bikes ready as they possibly can.”

Those pickups are averaging around 12 to 14 bikes per day.

“Our bicycles are given out for free to the children of low-income families,” Oleksyn said. “Anyone who has ever owned a bicycle often remembers their first one. It represents things like freedom and the opportunity to socialize with siblings and friends and explore the community where they live.”

Oleksyn also pointed out that the support from ECF came quickly and in a time of stressful uncertainty.

“When I heard there was emergency funding from ECF, I sent an email to Craig Stumpf-Allen, told him what we needed for our bicycle operations to continue and he wrote back approving our request in less than 24 hours. Incredible.”

Learn more about ECF’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic here.