Thunder Bay

Organizations continue to adapt, mobilize to address food insecurity amid pandemic

Roots to Harvest, a charitable organization based in Thunder Bay, has collaborated with over 20 community organizations, distributing food bags and meals for "food insecure people" within the city.

More than 180,000 meals were distributed by community organizations between March and August

Since March, organizations like Roots to Harvest and The Good Food Box have been working to address food insecurity in Thunder Bay Ont., as the pandemic continues to create uncertain circumstances for many. Erin Beagle, Roots to Harvest executive director says thousand of meals are still being sent out weekly. (Roots to Harvest/Facebook)

Organizations across Thunder Bay Ont., are continuing to to adapt and mobilize to meet the increasing demand for food access within the city.

Roots to Harvest, a charitable organization based in Thunder Bay, has collaborated with over 20 community organizations, distributing food bags and meals for "food insecure people" within the city, focusing first on families who relied on school breakfast and lunch programs.

"We finished 21 weeks of that just last week, doing over 400 bags of food a day that went over to over 900 kids a week," said Erin Beagle, executive director of Roots to Harvest. "More than 180,000 meals between March and August that went out."

Roots to Harvest surveyed all the families who received food baskets through their program. Beagle said the feedback revealed that 55 per cent of participants identified as having increased food insecurity needs during the pandemic, and 15 per cent identified as never having to use food access before the pandemic.

"These are people that have mortgages, that have car payments, that are still trying to, like, get their kids into there's a million reasons why people need food," she said.

Beagle said finding food throughout the pandemic became increasingly hard for many people within the city, citing a number of "barriers" such as a lack of digital access to contact the centralized food bank.

Erin Beagle, executive director of Roots to Harvest in Thunder Bay, stands beside her loaded van, getting ready for another Friday of distributing family breakfast and snack packages. (Erin Beagle/Roots to Harvest)

To address the need, Roots to Harvest began to work with organizations such as the Dew Drop Inn, Elizabeth Fry Society, Nishnawbe Aski Nation, The Good Food Box, Our Kids Count, and more. To date, Beagle said thousands of meals continue to go out each week through each community organization partnership.

"I think that perhaps food bank usage is down, but food access through other organizations is way up. I actually think that people are finding ways to meet their needs through that because of the organizations that have mobilized to do this," said Beagle. "Food is not just about food, it's about a wellness check."

She said many organizations use their model of getting food out into the community as a way of also checking in with more vulnerable populations, and will gauge their needs based off of these visits.

New challenges as cold months approach

As the seasons change, old challenges intertwined with the pandemic continue to persist, while new ones arise.

Food programs run by Dew Drop Inn and Grace Place are continuing to adapt to the need of the communities while maintaining a safe environment. Both organizations are working toward eventually reopening their dining rooms, and providing hot meals as cold weather approaches.

For Grace Place, volunteers are still focusing on running their day shelter, which sees about 30 individuals at once. The ministry is also providing bagged lunches, but will be testing a hot meal service on Tuesday.

Thunder Bay street ministry Grace Place is starting to plan for colder months amid the pandemic. (CBC News)

"We thought initially we would just dive in and open up the dining room. But I think logistically this is better. Then when it begins to get colder and COVID numbers are down lower, then we can perhaps open up the dining room because we do have this shelter going on at the same time. We do want to make sure that nobody's at risk," said Melody Macsemchuk, pastor at Grace Place.

Macsemchuck said there are many challenges to address amid the pandemic, such as training for volunteers to ensure new COVID-19 protocol is being followed once the dining room opens to the public again.

"It does take a long time before we can get this engine up and running again," she said, adding that the collaboration between organizations has helped to meet the need of the community over the last several months.