When thousands of residents of Flemingdon and Thorncliffe Park were put out of their jobs and struggled to put food on the table, community groups banded together and launched the Food Collaborative to help. The food bank project has since helped provide food for over eight hundred households .
The movement is spearheaded by The Neighborhood Organization (TNO), a non-profit charity that has provided a broad range of community services, such as counselling and women’s support programs, since 1985 . The organization has seven locations in four neighborhoods, including Flemingdon Park and Thorncliffe Park.
In the first six months of operation alone, the Food Collaborative was able to distribute an impressive 2700 food hampers . As of March 2021, TNO reports to have supported over 750 families and 250 seniors through the Food Collaborative.
When the Food Collaborative first launched in March 2020, it operated solely through delivery, bringing food hampers–boxes containing basic necessities such as milk and sugar–straight to the doorsteps of hundreds of households in the local community. The delivery system helped seniors and families avoid large gatherings and reduced potential exposure to COVID-19.
Since September 2020, TNO has also opened up a physical food bank. After scheduling an appointment, individuals are now able to drop by and pick up groceries. Food hampers continue to be delivered to seniors once a month by a team of employees and volunteers.
In December 2020, another component was added to the Food Collaborative in collaboration with the Michael Garron Hospital. When the hospital staff noticed that many who were awaiting COVID-19 test results were going to crowded grocery stores to stock up for a potential quarantine, TNO stepped up to the issue and started providing deliveries for COVID-positive individuals. The deliveries consist of a two-week supply of fresh produce and other grocery goods.
The Food Collaborative has also gone beyond simply providing for food needs to offer deliveries of other necessities as well, such as over-the-counter medications. “We are just trying to help people out to make sure their needs are met,” said Darcy MacCallum, the Director of Family and Wellness at TNO.
The Food Collaborative is supported by donations made by groups and individuals alike. Notably, United Way has contributed a large portion of their funding, having donated around $185 thousand . In addition, the Islamic Society of Toronto donated warehouse space to operate the food bank from. Other community groups, such as the Leaside Toy Drive, have chipped in with financial donations as well.
Several members of the MGCI student and staff body have pitched in to help with the Food Bank. Among them is Mr. Pearce. When asked about his experience, he said: “Overall, it was a great experience. I gained a better understanding of the physical layout of Thorncliffe and Flemingdon, and I got to know the buildings where many Garneau students live. On the more serious side, I learned about the scale of the problem of food insecurity in Toronto.”
It is important to note that food banks provide only a short-term solution to a much larger issue. “There has been an urgency where people have had a fall-off of income because of job loss and a variety of other factors, creating a snowball effect where people needed help getting food. We need to consider the long term effects: how do we address the issues that are causing people to need a food bank in the first place?” said MacCallum.
Food insecurity has been a growing issue in Canada for years and has only been exacerbated by the pandemic . It is tightly linked with income, but also reflects material circumstances such as housing tenure. To deal with food insecurity and the underlying issue of poverty would require policy action on the part of the government . Nonetheless, TNO and its team of volunteers have accomplished amazing work through the Food Collaborative initiative to help local communities get through this hard time.
To learn more about the Food Collaborative or make a financial donation, visit https://donate.tno-toronto.org/tno-food-collaborative/.