Grace Hospital staff knew they were never alone battling COVID-19. Now, they’re giving back to the community that supported them through an overwhelming year and a half.

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Grace Hospital staff knew they were never alone battling COVID-19. Now, they’re giving back to the community that supported them through an overwhelming year and a half.

In the face of "one of the greatest calamities to affect the planet," Grace Hospital and hospital foundation executive director Jon Einarson have experienced "the unbelievably generous nature of Manitobans."

As an expression of gratitude for that community support amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the west Winnipeg hospital is playing host Aug. 5 to a free family-friendly drive-in movie night, with fireworks.

In a typical year, the hospital holds a free winter carnival in December. But since it was unable to in 2020, "We’ve been waiting for the right time where people can actually congregate so we can have just a nice, free event for the community," Einarson said.

Over the past 16 months, the hospital has witnessed a new level of community support, he said.

Among the examples: fire paramedics doing drive-by salutes, local pizza places donating food to ICU staff, and the Princess Auto Foundation donating 15,000 hot meals for staff.

"Frankly, I’ve never seen a donation anything like that," Einarson said. "Something so personal, something so useful, meaningful, something that would just light up our staff’s faces when they saw it."

From the greater community, the hospital has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for COVID-19 support programs. In addition, the hospital was able to gather enough money through donations within weeks to buy 51 iPads for patients to use to communicate with loved ones through FaceTime or Zoom when the hospital was unable to allow visitors.

"It is so critical that we let the community know how much we are grateful for all their support," Einarson said.

The drive-in movie night (at the Grace Hospital parking lot at 300 Booth Dr.) will show the 1985 sci-fi comedy Back to the Future. A snack truck will be on site to deliver purchased concessions to guests’ vehicles. Washrooms will be available.

A priority for organizers was to make sure the event is as safe as possible. The hospital has collaborated with Public Health to make sure it adheres to all pandemic guidelines.

Household members are permitted to be in the same car without verification of vaccination, but those not of the same household will need to provide proof of double vaccination post-two weeks.

All 200 available spots for vehicles at the event have been claimed, but wait list registrations are being accepted at gracehospitalfoundation.ca.

"We are so relieved that there is some light on the horizon, in terms of returning to a bit of normalcy," Einarson said.

"In this very responsible way, we wanted to give the community something to say thank you, and to enjoy as quickly as we possibly could, and so this seems like our best opportunity to do something."

gillian.brown@freepress.mb.ca