Ensuring Food Access for Vulnerable Torontonians During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Topics: Ontario, Community Health, Volunteer
Martina Buehler, Communications Volunteer | June 22, 2020

When the COVID-19 pandemic was declared and I was temporarily laid off by my employer, it was clear to me that I would dedicate my time to volunteering for the Red Cross’ food services program. Assuming there would be a spike in need for food assistance because of isolation and reduced community services, I knew I wanted to volunteer with the Food Services Program. I am a communications volunteer for the Red Cross and had already volunteered for the Meals on Wheels Program back in the Fall, so going back was just a phone call away. When the Red Cross introduced the Emergency Food Assistance Program, I wanted to help with those deliveries too.
What does the Emergency Food Delivery program look like?

Thirteen food boxes filled with nutritious non-perishable food items such as canned food and dried goods, sit in the back of my car ready to be delivered to vulnerable Torontonians who are experiencing food insecurity due to isolation or quarantine caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first residence we deliver to is a multi-unit building, which means that I, as the runner, use hand sanitizer and put on a face mask and a pair of disposable gloves before unloading the food box. It is a sunny and mild day, which makes the walk to the building and up the stairs with a 12-pound food box in my arms a little nicer. The delivery goes smoothly – before the client opens the building’s main door to get the food box, I make sure that I have moved 6 feet away. The client is delighted to see me and welcomes me with a warm smile and words of gratitude. Even at a distance, a quick check-in on the clients’ well-being followed by a “stay healthy and safe” makes the encounter more enriching.

After each delivery, I remove the personal protective equipment (PPE) and place it in a garbage bag that I store away from the food boxes. Once again, I sanitize my hands before getting into the car. The hygiene procedures are repeated for each new residence. After the delivery, we dispose of the garbage bag containing used PPE in our home’s communal garbage disposal area.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and the implementation of a lockdown in Ontario to slow the spread of the Coronavirus, the need for emergency food access programs has increased considerably. Many people are isolated, unable to leave their houses and face financial hardship. Various community services that they usually use have either closed or modified their services to meet public health measures. Among those community services are food programs that are now operating   under immense pressure to meet the increased demand.

Over the years, I have volunteered for various organizations and it has always been a rewarding experience. The ability to support other people and have a tiny bit of positive impact on their well-being and day-to-day lives makes me happy and gives me the feeling that my actions can create change and contribute to a better community. And that feeling – in a world, where we often think that one individual’s actions are not enough – is the biggest reward for me.

The Red Cross has partnered with the City of Toronto and community organizations to ensure food access for vulnerable Torontonians during these extraordinary times. The Emergency Food Assistance Program was introduced as a ‘no contact’ doorstep drop-off to protect our clients and Red Cross personnel.  As of June the program had registered 2,373 clients and delivered around 8,000 food boxes.