Newcomers Overcoming New Challenges During COVID-19

Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers able to provide food hampers and technology support to 100 families thanks to ECF grant.

Settling in a new country can feel isolating at any time, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made it even harder for newcomers to meet members of their community and feel at home.

Immigrants and refugees often struggle with navigating new systems, and COVID-19 has created even more barriers to those systems.

“Everything is a danger and you don’t know who to trust or what you can trust,” says Sara Buczynski, Outreach Team Lead for Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers (EMCN).

EMCN exists to support refugees and immigrants, and their settlement journey toward integration. Newcomers are supported through a complex case model that provides access to resources such as general settlement work, programs for employment, languages, and community groups.

Newcomers are facing many challenges during the pandemic including loss of income, misinformation, and an impact on mental health.

“People talk about Canada being not very social and a lot of people come from very vibrant community-based cultures,” says Buczynski.  “If you’re feeling isolated and not connected, then that means you’re even less likely to be connected to the supports and resources that you need.”

Families face the added stress of providing virtual schooling for their children. Lack of internet, computers and internet connection, combined with the language barrier, creates even more challenges.

Thanks to a $24,100 grant from Edmonton Community Foundation (ECF), EMCN was able to provide emergency supports to local people in need. EMCN received gifts from the community of home kits, laptops, and food hampers. The distribution of the gifts will be determined by need.

The grant has allowed EMCN to support almost 100 families in the last month with different resources such as food, household and hygiene items, emergency relief, access to financial benefits and community connection.

“Isolation is a feeling we can all identify with during the pandemic, but for newcomers the stakes are so much higher as they try to get a foothold in their new country,” Craig Stumpf-Allen, ECF’s Director of Grants and Community Engagement says. “Our strategic granting during COVID-19 is designed to make sure no one is falling through the cracks, and the EMCN is helping us realize that goal.”

ECF seeded the Rapid Response Fund (RRF) on March 25 with $500,000 of its discretionary dollars. To date, ECF has provided a combined total of $1,258,050 to support Edmonton’s charitable sector through the pandemic.

“When ECF funds an organization like EMCN, we’re working together to make that community a place where newcomers are welcome,” says Buczynski. “And I think that, especially in times of loneliness and isolation, that is even more meaningful.”

Creating a feeling of home and trust for newcomers during the pandemic is the main goal EMCN has with dividing the emergency supports.

“When somebody remembers you and cares, it means that this is home,” Buczynski says. “And so, making our community a place that newcomers can feel at home is essential.”

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