TNT EXCLUSIVE: Calgary community advocate Gar Gar discusses outreach amid COVID-19

Written By Guest User, Posted on June 15, 2020

The National Telegraph recently interviewed MLA candidate for Calgary-East and founder of the South Sudanese Youth Empowerment Society, Gar Gar, over his volunteer work in local grassroots organizations throughout Calgary.

Most notably, we touched on his “Free Friday Pizza Initiative,” a project which stems from his commitment to strong family values and promoting the common good. 

TNT: With considerable volunteer experience, what inspired you to pursue the Free Friday Pizza Initiative?

Gar Gar: It came up in a conversation with my children a couple of months ago. Every two weeks, we picked out a movie and sat down together as a family. Children’s films like Coco, which we have since watched a couple of times, showed them the value of kindness, compassion, and family. 

When COVID-19 hit,we would cook pizzas as a family to get their minds off the uncertainty around us. Even though they’re only kids, they were perceptive and knew something wasn’t quite right. But we did our best to keep them busy at home. It often reminded me of my youth with my dad, who would get the family together as we broke bread. It was full of laughter and joy and were amongst my most precious memories.

And one day, a neighbour of mine commented on Facebook and said: “Hey, we would love to have some of your delicious pizza!” We then got to thinking about how we could benefit those around us. Our neighbours and fellow Calgarians were struggling during the pandemic, and we wanted to pay it forward by showering them with our affection and generosity.

TNT: How many families have you helped with this initiative?

Gar Gar: During the first week, we fed ten families. After that, we did about twelve to thirteen families a week and received donations to continue helping as many as possible. People started donating as their way of paying it forward, and some even supported us to deliver pizzas as well.

Though my kids were eager to help, they were unable to leave the house because of how young they are and social distancing protocols. My youngest is just the sweetest, as she would want to hug everyone she’d come across. As a result, they stayed home during the first month to their disappointment, but they were my number-one helpers at home, so all was well.

TNT: The concept of paying it forward is essential, especially amid a pandemic. For those you helped, what was their reaction? Was it a rewarding experience?

Gar Gar: Absolutely. What defines Calgary at its best is the spirit of coming together in the face of adversity. Being there for your neighbour gives them hope. No matter who you are or where you come from, that is a powerful and unifying message.

In light of the individual acts of racism some have experienced, I believe this sort of community outreach is how we can remove the veils of fear. Whether it was recently or hundreds of years ago, people came to this country for many reasons—to find a place to call home—where they can practice their faith and raise their families in peace.  

I call this country home because it gave me the opportunities that no other nation has for both my family and myself. And for that, I am eternally grateful. In returning that kindness to the community, I pay it forward so that the next generation values how blessed this country is. 

From my work with youth in the South Sudanese Youth Empowerment Society to volunteering at places of worship, and even my role as the former president of the SAIT Students Union, it is rewarding to help my fellow Canadians. They are amongst my most potent and happiest of memories.

TNT: What inspired you to dress as a penguin during your Free Friday Pizza Initiative? 

Gar Gar: When my family and I went to the zoo before COVID, my kids fell in love with the penguin exhibit. So, I decided to dress up as one to pay homage to them and bring smiles to the faces of the children whose families we helped. This moved others, and so much so that they helped me deliver and make pizzas to help as many people as possible. 

Through the inflatable costume, we came to realize that kids are missing out on their usual social interactions. For some of the families, we coordinated to surprise their children on their birthdays. As you can imagine, their faces lit up because they were so excited. These were moving experiences.

TNT: How important is it for people to give back to the community, with many losing their jobs and faced with real financial anxieties in the months ahead?

Gar Gar: A lot of it stems from our journey as a people, and how we have overcome obstacles with the utmost determination. The freedom this country gives us as a liberal democracy, where coercion and force are less apparent than elsewhere, drives us to make what once was impossible, possible. 

I am blessed that I don’t have to sit with my eldest son and tell him about the hardships I endured in South Sudan. Rather than talk to him about the fear of not knowing whether I’d live the next day, I’d instead teach him to pursue his dreams, be happy, and do good for others. I encourage him—as I do all my children—to speak their mind and to stand up for what’s right.

Guest User

One response to “TNT EXCLUSIVE: Calgary community advocate Gar Gar discusses outreach amid COVID-19”

  1. Deyara Deyara says:

    Great and outstanding community work Mr. Gar Gar. The joy of putting smiles on the needy faces is incomparable, I encourage you to keep your wonderful work because communities thrive by helping others.
    You are such a great role model to many promising young people in Alberta and back home.