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‘New normal’ means new tasks to tackle

By  Quinton Amundson, Catholic Register Special
  • April 3, 2020

CALGARY -- A few weeks ago, Jamie Hunka sat at a desk in one of The Mustard Seed’s support centres helping job seekers write resumes and master interviewing skills.

Today the employment coach has traded in his pencil for a soup ladle as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced staff members at the homelessness ministry to accept new responsibilities.

Hunka, who joined The Mustard Seed in June 2019, was happy to assume his new role and help the most vulnerable citizens navigate through the epidemic.

“I had a jolt of anxiety, wondering if I would still have a job and what is life going to look like on the other side of this pandemic. Right now, I am incredibly grateful that I have a role working at the shelter,” he said.

Hunka, a teaching pastor at Northern Hills Church, splits his shifts helping between serving meals and caretaking at the downtown facility.

The Calgarian likens his day-by-day role during this “new normal” as a kind of “wartime effort.”

“We all have to band together to get through this,” he said. “I love that I get to come out and make an active contribution to help ensure these guys still have a place to live, food to eat, clothes to wear, and for them to still get that dignity despite the crisis going around.”

The Mustard Seed is not alone in reaching out to Calgary’s homeless population. Catholic parishes are distributing food through The Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the Feed the Hungry program.

Hunka acknowledges trepidation about going to work because of the possibility he could become infected with COVID-19. But that anxiety is ultimately outweighed by his desire for fellowship and to do good work. He is guided by Matthew 25:40: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for Me.”

“I feel like I am actively providing for and protecting people that Jesus loves,” said Hunka. “In a sense, I am doing it for Him.”

Andrew Gusztak, the volunteer services manager at The Mustard Seed, says staff members like Hunka take care of about 350 guests housed in rooms at the organization’s Downtown Support Centre and a makeshift unit set up at the First Alliance Church.

Gusztak said that while there have been some sombre days during the pandemic, the spirit at The Mustard Seed remains high.

“There is a lot of neighbourly love that happens in this space,” he said. “Every day friendships begin to form and these great little interactions take place, and these (developments) are the icing on the cake in very stressful times.”

Gusztak has also been on the receiving end of this neighbourly love as guests offer to pray for him.

“When the guests come to us and they are needing to hope in something we would share that value with them and offer to pray with them. All those mechanisms of relationships help to grow the sweetness of our community in the midst of this crisis.”

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