Edmonton Fire Dispatchers Cook for a Cause

Four years ago, Edmonton Fire Rescue Services dispatchers Caryn Halstead and Allison Secord volunteered at Ronald McDonald House Charities Northern Alberta (RMHCNA) for the first time. Little did they know, what started out as a one-time event, would turn into something much more. They began cooking meals and baking treats regularly for the House, something they both say comes naturally to Edmonton Fire Rescue Services personnel.

“Preparing and having a meal together is a big part of the Edmonton Fire Rescue Services culture, just as with our own families, meals in the hall provide the opportunity for teamwork, camaraderie and rehab,” said Halstead. “The same is true at RMHCNA; families in crisis from all over sit together and have an opportunity to share in each other’s journeys, challenges and successes.”

“As we spent more time in the House, we became more engaged and invested,” continued Halstead. “Because of our uniforms, the kids at the House started referring to us as the ‘firegirls’ and we became known as Firegirlsbaking.”

As Firegirlsbaking began spending more time at the House, it became very apparent the children weren’t the only ones who needed taking care of.

“Parents who are in crisis with a sick child often have difficulty meeting their own basic needs,” said Halstead. “All their attention is focused solely on the child, and even something as simple as a meal can become a luxury.”

The Ronald McDonald House’s Meals that Mend Program provides home cooked meals to those who are staying at the House. However, both RMCHCNA and Firegirlsbaking wanted to do more for the families who were unable to be at the House for these meals.  Together they developed a program that would allow parents and families in crisis to access portable meals 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Firegirlsbaking approached the Edmonton Firefighters Union Local 209 for sponsorship, and last year, this three-way partnership launched the Meals that Mend: Frozen Edition program.  

“Similar to the original Meals that Mend program, community groups plan and prepare a meal at the House,” explained the girls.  “However, instead of sharing that meal immediately with the families, this meal is packaged and stored in the Edmonton Firefighters Union sponsored commercial freezer. As a result, these meals are available whenever families need them, and can even be taken to-go.”

Currently, the program has one freezer located at Ronald McDonald House that is available to all RMHCNA families and to families who have access to the Hospital Day Pass program. However, Firegirlsbaking intends to have stocked freezers located in all Edmonton hospitals to provide services for children and parents who do not have access to the Ronald McDonald House. Firegirlsbaking continues to work with the RMHCNA to achieve this goal.

“The objective of the Meals that Mend: Frozen Edition program is to bring both food and a sense of community to parents who might otherwise be isolated,” said Secord. “The program is designed to create a moment of reprieve, no matter how brief, that allows a parent or caregiver to regroup.”

“We want these families to know that they are not alone,” Halstead added.

In the 4 months that the EFFU209 sponsored Meals that Mend: Frozen Edition program has been up and running, over 250 meals have been provided to families in need. Additionally, this program has saved families a total of $2,500 and has enabled parents to spend an additional 7,560 hours with their sick or injured child.  

To volunteer for the Meals that Mend: Frozen Edition program, please contact Matt Mang at matt@rmhcna.org, or book online.