Posted by LA Palamar, Ottawa-Bytown
In order to support our local community during the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Rotary Club of Ottawa Bytown decided to offer our support to the families of Immaculata High School students. 
Located on Main Street in Old Ottawa South, this school of the Ottawa Catholic School Board serves a wide catchment area, spanning neighbourhoods of widely diverse socio-economic conditions. A pillar of the Old Ottawa South/East community since 1928, the school has evolved to serve the needs of its community moving from a girls-only school to a co-ed. 
Immaculata added arts and sports programs, as well as programs with a community focus like Caring for Others and High Skills Major programs in Science & Engineering and the Environment.  These students are prepared to do remarkable things once they graduate from this relevant and progressive school.  The Rotary Club of Ottawa Bytown has planted an oak tree, descended from the acorns of the oaks on Vimy Ridge, on the grounds of Immaculata High School.  This tree is a tribute to our Canadian soldiers who valiantly captured the German-held high ground of Vimy Ridge in WWI, serves as a focal point for our Club to gather on Remembrance Day and (it is hoped) will provide a source of inspiration for Immaculata students for years to come.
During the pandemic, there are families of Immaculata students who struggle to put food on the table.  Parents deal with issues such as single household incomes, single parent households, parents who work in the front lines of health care, lack of childcare, and reduced incomes, to name some of the current challenges. A core of teachers, administrators and clerics remain employed at the school and are focused on providing the students with education and the families with sustenance.  In this world of on-line education, students required computers as many did not have a computer in their home and additionally, families did not have the financial resources to buy basic groceries.  As Immaculata sought donations of computers elsewhere, the Rotary Club of Ottawa Bytown stepped up to provide groceries, providing approximately $4,000 in Food Basics grocery gift cards.  The school created a review committee consisting of the Principal, members of the Guidance Counsellor team and one cleric, who assumed responsibility for assessing the needs of the families, delivering the computers and grocery cards, and in some instances purchasing the groceries for quarantined families who were unable to leave their homes. 
The stories of these families rising above seemingly insurmountable challenges, are inspiring.  There are stories of job loss as a result of caring for sick family members, multiple family members (both parents and children) trying to self-isolate in one home, finding assistance with grocery shopping and child care when required;  and all while providing home-schooling for their children.  Managing this situation successfully is a testament to the strength of the human spirit.
The administrators of the school are grateful for Rotary’s contribution to their support efforts and have been very clear on how big a difference this has made in the lives of those who received this assistance.  There can be no greater gift than to show you care for your neighbours by providing food, empathy and hope.  The Rotary Club of Ottawa Bytown appreciated Rotary International’s financial contribution to the funds we raised and for their support in making this initiative a reality.  Special thanks to Bette Miller and her team for their commitment to reviewing the grant applications and providing patient, helpful direction along the way.