At the end of April, when GuelphToday first reported on The SEED’s Emergency Food Home Delivery Program, the team was ramping up efforts to feed as many as 10,000 people impacted by the COVID 19 lockdown.
“It seems like a large number both as a need and as a supply,” Gavin Dandy, directing coordinator for The SEED, said at the time. “We are anticipating that it will be more than 50,000 meals a week when it is all said and done.”
It was an ambitious goal, but they quickly demonstrated how generous the community is and what can be accomplished when people work together for the common good.
Between April and October, they prepared and delivered more than 37,000 boxes, containing groceries and prepared meals, to more than 1,100 households. That translated to more than 64,000 meals for approximately 2,600 people.
It was done with the help of community partners that provided food, facilities, expertise and other resources as well as volunteers who donated more than 4,400 hours of their time collecting, preparing and delivering meals.
“We’ve had a wide variety of people of different ages, cultures and experiences,” said The SEED’s food literacy coordinator, Angela Picot. “We have people with kitchen experience and people who have never walked into a kitchen. We have businesspeople. We have students. We have youth who just needed to get out of the house and were able to fulfill a few volunteer hours.”
At the height of the lockdown, The SEED was preparing meals in commercial kitchens at the YM-YWCA, the Orchard Park Kitchen at the Ignatius Jesuit Centre and the University of Guelph, where, with the help of kitchen staff, they were producing about 500 meals a day.
“They were an amazing partner, and we were really grateful to have them,” said Picot. “They produced about two thirds of our meals.”
The U of G was able to offer the services of their staff and facilities during the lockdown but that ended when classes resumed, and they were obligated to supply campus restaurants and student meal programs.
“It was three and now it is down to just this kitchen,” said Picot who has taken over temporarily for Ingrid von Cube as meal preparation coordinator at the Orchard Park Kitchen. “We are also working with another partner, the Shelldale Family Gateway at the Shelldale Centre where, until recently, we were operating a kitchen.”
The Orchard Park facility is a spacious, fully equipped, commercial kitchen, but in order to maintain safe social distancing protocols they are limited to five to eight volunteers per shift.
“Depending on the week, we are doing anywhere from 300 to 700 individual, frozen meals a week,” said chef Yasi Zorlutuna. “Usually, it’s Tuesday prep, Wednesday cook, Thursday pack. A lot of these volunteers have been here since the beginning. They are just amazing people and I love them. We have a blast and we are doing a wonderful thing.”
Zorlutuna was working at the U of G before the pandemic so she is at home in a commercial kitchen.
“I have been laid off since March and I can’t sit around and do nothing,” she said. “When I saw what the SEED was doing, producing all these meals I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to just help out, offer my skills and knowledge.”
The emergency funding The SEED received in the spring has been exhausted but the need for healthy food has not abated.
Before the pandemic the team was focused on helping 300 vulnerable families registered with the Guelph Community Health Centre. The scope of their efforts has grown to more than 20,000 people in Guelph and Wellington that can’t afford healthy food.
It is an unacceptably high number, and they don’t believe in compromising quality for quantity.
“One of the goals is to mimic Canada’s Healthy Plate in every meal we send out,” said Picot. “I am really pleased to say that this kitchen, actually all three kitchens, worked really hard throughout the pandemic to provide nutritious food and delicious meals to individuals with various dietary needs. Everything from gluten free, vegetarian, vegan, halal, kosher, all of those things.”
The SEED team consider access to healthy food a basic human right and their goal is to make Guelph-Wellington the first community in Canada to eradicate food insecurity.
They aim to do that by, among other things, “reducing barriers to healthy food” and “empowering people to be agents of change”.
They are experimenting with a pay-what-you-can-for-groceries service to help fund their efforts and have continued with other fundraising efforts such as the Souper Hero Fundraiser.
“We utilize whatever we are given and make beautiful meals out of it,” said Picot. “We are so lucky to have great community partners.”
They have shown that Guelph is fertile ground for The SEED to grow what they call a “Do-It-Together Food Movement.”
For many of the volunteers, such as Brenda MacDonald, at the Orchard Park Kitchen, helping is its own reward.
“We have fun, it gives us purpose and it is very rewarding,” said MacDonald. “As much as we are volunteering our time, we are also receiving the gift of being included and involved and I am learning along the way.”
For a list of The SEED programs and services as well as the many community partners and donors visit www.theseedguelph.ca