Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, The SEED, a non-profit organization at the Guelph Community Health Centre, was providing meals to more than 300 vulnerable families in the community. That number has spiked dramatically.
“A lot more people now are food insecure than a month and a half ago,” said Gavin Dandy, directing coordinator for The SEED. “It was already a community problem pre-COVID-19 and now it is a bigger problem.”
Dandy and the SEED team have been coordinating with a variety of people, businesses and organization to step up their efforts by 10 times or more.
“The initial 300 homes is our starting point because it makes sense to start first with Guelph Community Health Centre clients that we already have direct relationships with,” said Dandy. “That’s a manageable amount to organize our systems around but we hope to be expanding our reach beyond that circle of clients and into the general community pretty soon.”
They estimate that more than 4,000 local homes are experiencing food insecurity right now.
“My best guess after talking with a lot of partner agencies who are doing similar work, talking with the city and the county, we are in the 10,000 people range and that is probably a conservative estimate,” said Dandy. “It is what we are going with right now as a target to scale up our capacity to deliver to 10,000 people all or most of their food needs.”
That translates to more than 50,000 meals each week.
“It seems like a large number both as a need and as a supply,” said Dandy. “We are anticipating that it will be more than 50,000 meals a week when it is all said and done.”
They are relying on food donations as well as donations of facilities and food preparation services such as the Hospitality Services at the University of Guelph that started preparing meals for the project last week.
“We have the facility to cook large volumes of food and Gavin’s group wanted someone to cook for them because they see a big need coming up now to help the community,” said U of G Hospitality Services executive chef Vijay Nair. “We coordinate with them as to what we can do using their donations. We cook up meals making sure they are nutritious and tasty.”
They have been working hard to provide the growing demand while maintaining same high-quality meals they serve the students.
“Last week we did close to 500 portions of a chickpea and vegetable stew with a vegetable rice,” said Nair. “This week we are doing about 1,000 portions of pasta with tomatoes and mushrooms and chicken. Next week we are preparing another 1,000 portions of vegetable or vegetarian chili with rice. They got a big donation of beets so, we are making some borscht with smoked meat for next week as well.”
The U of G crew cook up large quantities that they then divide into individual portions.
“So, we portion it, freeze it, pack it, label it and the SEED picks it up and takes it to their warehouse and from there on distribute it,” said Nair. “We have a good group on campus and everyone is keen to pitch in any way we can. It’s a small city so we can all play our part and help the community out.”
The SEED has secured two other commercial kitchens for food preparation.
“We have the Orchard Park Kitchen at the Ignatius Jesuit Centre and the kitchen at the YM-YWCA facility just off the Hanlon Parkway,” said Dandy. “I think we are going to need other kitchens and other teams of chefs and cooks but that is where we are right now, and we are happy with that as a start.”
Among the growing list of other groups helping with the initiative are, 10C Shared Space, Smart Cities Harve$t Fund, Neighbourhood Group of Companies, Westminster Midtown Village and Sisco Foods.
They are also accepting private donations of fresh fruits and vegetables and non-perishable goods.
“We will be delivering meals, but we will also be delivering fresh food and some shelf-stable food products as well,” said Dandy. “We are really trying to provide people with a full nutritious basket of different types of food that meet their needs and keep them going through this crisis.”
As capacity grows, they will need more donations and more space to store and distribute the food.
“Prior to COVID we already had a warehouse with a walk in cooler and a freezer and trucks and loading dock and staff and volunteers,” said Dandy. “So, we already have a lot of contacts and suppliers and systems in place to move a lot of food. It is just about scaling all that up.”
They just confirmed the donation of a 30,000 square-foot warehouse and are looking for more volunteers.
“Yes, it is going to be one of the critical components for success, volunteers and general support and partnership with many organizations,” said Dandy. “It certainly won’t be something the SEED can do on our own.”
He has little doubt that the community will rise to the occasion.
“This certainly is ambitious, but we have an amazing community and I am confident, with all the people involved and agencies and supporters that we can pull this off,” said Dandy. “It is going to be a little bit of work for sure.”
To learn more about The SEED and the Emergency Food Home Delivery program or to donate food or volunteer visit: https://www.theseedguelph.ca