'We see you:' Volunteers deliver lunches to essential workers in Elora

Kathy Mayo and John Scott were walking by The Elora Cafe when they came up with an idea; a way to feed essential workers and help a local business survive the COVID-19 pandemic.

Enough money was raised online to feed essential workers for a month and keep a local business afloat

John Scott and Kathy Mayo raised money online to deliver lunches to essential workers for at least the next month (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

Kathy Mayo and John Scott were walking by The Elora Cafe when they came up with an idea; a way to feed essential workers and help a local business survive the COVID-19 pandemic.

If they raised enough money through crowdfunding, they could deliver lunches for essential workers. The owner of The Elora Cafe could make the food — a little bit of business to keep her going.

They put a call out to the community and the Village of Elora and surrounding areas responded immediately. People came forward to volunteer and they raised more than $6,000 in a few days. Enough to feed essential workers for a month. The project was called Lunches With Love.

"I want them to be reminded that this community is thinking about them, is caring about them, is wanting to thank them," said Mayo. 

'Feel a bit of the love'

Paula Allen, the owner of The Elora Cafe, jumped at the opportunity to make the daily lunches. She focuses on keeping the meals nutrient dense and delicious. Brie and apple wraps, turkey, avocado and bacon sandwiches —  absolutely. The essential workers deserve it, she says.

Paula Allen spends her mornings in The Elora Cafe kitchen making lunches for essential workers in the community. (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

"We see you. We understand the risk you're putting yourself at. We respect and love what you're doing for us," said Allen. "I hope they get to feel a bit of the love."

Closing the cafe during the pandemic was one of the most difficult days of her life, Allen says. The business was a dream that she planned out for years before opening. It could all be gone, she thought.

"Getting it up and running with this has made such a difference," said Allen. "It's really going to keep us afloat."

Students join in

Every lunch also has a letter from a student saying thanks. Mayo and Scott are retired teachers, so they got a local school involved and enlisted the help of students.

"I just want you to know that I appreciate all your hard work and I've been thinking about all the front-line workers during this pandemic more than ever," a letter from Mya Hunt says, a grade 5 student from Elora Public School.

Mya Hunt is one of the local students who has written a thank you note to an essential workers. (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

Hunt says she was inspired by her dad to write the letter. He's a police officer in Guelph who has been working through the pandemic.

Mayo anticipated the team would deliver 50 lunches within the first week, but more than 100 essential workers were fed, from nurses to pharmacists to cleaners and hardware store workers. 

The team focuses on making the lunches nutritious, delicious and relatively easy to eat. (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

Usually when Mayo contacts the essential workers to tell them the team is bringing food, she says they're surprised and even a bit resistant. People think there are probably more deserving recipients than themselves.

"But then we say, just consider this a giant hug from your community, and that usually does it for them," said Mayo.

'It's not always easy'

At the end of their first week, they deliver 27 lunches in one day to Heritage River Retirement Home in Elora. 

"It's very overwhelming to have the community support," said Megan Polkiewicz, who's in charge of the nursing department at Heritage River.

Megan Polkiewicz takes in the 27 lunches for the nurses, cleaners, dining staff and reception. (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

"Some days aren't always easy...It feels awesome to be thanked for helping all our residents," Polkiewicz said.

The interaction between Mayo, Scott and the nursing home staff is ebullient. They keep their distance, but everybody seems to be taking in the greeting. A dose of connectivity during a difficult time.

"Everybody's masked, but there's this emotional connection with the eyes," said Scott.


Julianne Hazlewood is a multimedia journalist who's worked at CBC newsrooms across the country as a host, video journalist, reporter and producer. Have a story idea?