REDUCING ISOLATION IN THE FACE OF SOCIAL DISTANCING

We’ve taken a lot of pride in the 8 years since we’ve opened our doors in the fact that our community meals have been a place for EVERYONE in our community to share a meal together up to three times each week. By encouraging a mixed demographic at our community meals, we’ve been able to reduce the stigma and increase the dignity attached to accessing at least one basic source of nutritious food for many of our neighbours who may be experiencing barriers to good, healthy food.

Our meals are cooked from scratch with nutritious whole produce and unprocessed locally raised meats procured by our storehouse team. They’re plated with care under the guideance and leadership of our community chef by our team of volunteers, many of whom may have just recently acquired new kitchen skills at one of our programs. Many others are restaurant professionals themselves spending a rare day off sharing their love of food and their belief that good food shouldn’t be a luxury available only to those who can afford a trip to one of our city’s long list of incredible restaurants.

In happier times, we also had a team of front-of-house volunteers who would deliver plated dishes to our community members, clear and clean the dishes. The potential stress for someone experiencing chronic food insecurity at the end of a lineup of people wondering if there’s enough food for everyone, is something we definitely wanted to eliminate as much as we could.

A glimpse of our community meals past…

For the last three weeks, however, we’ve had to make some serious adjustments in order to minimize the risk that staff, volunteers, and program participants have to virus exposure while recognising that the most vulnerable in our community who face food insecurity, domestic violence, and housing challenges are at increased levels of risk right now and need the support of our community now more than ever.

The biggest difference, of course, is that we cannot eat together as a community. For the safety and health of the community we’ve moved to a take-away model and, for the time being, asked our dedicated team of volunteers to stay home. Meals have been made and distributed by staff alone, although we have recently added a couple of kitchen roster spots for restaurant professionals who can make the most efficient use of the limited number of stations we can safely have in our kitchen space and don’t need to be reminded about the importance of maximum safe food handling protocols under the current circumstances.

Other tips and tricks that have worked for us:

  • Mark out kitchen work stations at least 6 feet apart.

  • Temporarily reduce your volunteer pool to those in a low-risk age demographic (20 – 45) and those with safe food handling certification, i.e. restaurant professionals. So many kitchen workers are unfortunately out of work due to the virus. Provide as generous an honorarium as you can.

  • Encourage people to come alone, remain in their cars, and bring them as many meals as they would like for their household or neighbours.

  • If those who arrive to pick up meals by foot, bike, or bus need to wait, mark out spacers for them at least 6 feet apart. In general, try to serve people as quickly, efficiently, and safely as possible.

  • Label meals with a list of ingredients and re-heating instructions.

  • A home delivery service allows for even more social distancing and provides food access for community members in self-isolation or high-risk age demographic. We set up a dedicated email address and phone number extension for orders which we ask community members to place 24 hours in advance so that delivery routes can be planned and enough meals can be prepared.

CHARITY IS NOT THE SOLUTION TO POVERTY

Finding a new way of serving our community during these unprecedented times is necessary, but these new strategies are not the answer to poverty – food handouts will never be the answer. But it is important for us to find creative ways to continue to provide services because we believe whole heartedly that access to good food is a human right. Having said that, our most important work is building connections through the power of food and as we advocate for curb side pick up to never be normal, even though circumstances dictate it is necessary for now; even though the community feels an urgency to support us because of it – we look forward to dinner table chats and a building filled with laughter replacing curb side pick up, and we look forward to your continued support in normal times.

~Debra Swan, Executive Director