Emergency food service delivers hot meals, food boxes across Mohawk community

Kahnawake, Que., has launched an emergency food service amid the COVID-19 pandemic, providing hot meals twice a day for elders and food boxes for those struggling financially.

‘When our community is in crisis, we always come together,’ says organizer

Kahnawake launched an emergency food service for its residents who are struggling with food security amid the global COVID-19 pandemic. (Submitted by Kahawinóntie Diabo)

Staff at Kahnawake's health and social services department don't want their community members to worry about groceries and meals amid self-isolation directives and closures of all non-essential businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It's why they launched an emergency food service that is providing hot meals twice a day for elders and those with limited mobility or dietary restrictions. 

An expansion of an existing food bank service, called the Kateri Food Basket, also started delivering a food box to those struggling financially but who are able to cook for themselves.

"We want to make it as stress-free as possible for people. If giving them a box of food or giving hot meals will do that, then all the better," said Ashlan Phillips, the emergency food service co-ordinator at Kahnawake Shakotiia'takehnhas Community Services.

Phillips said upwards of 80 elders and families signed up for the service as of Friday, and she expects the number to grow.

This week, Kahnawake ordered all non-essential businesses to close their doors to curb the spread of COVID-19. The community, located south of Montreal, has positive cases of the virus and will be setting up a drive-through testing site for its residents this weekend. Directives were also made ordering people over the age of 70 to stay home.

"We just want to ease some stress on their part and not have to worry about when their next meal is coming," said Phillips.

For Kahawinóntie Diabo, a food box was a sigh of a relief. 

"I was so happy," she said. "I've had no food in my fridge and cupboards for the last three days. I've been surviving off of apples and almond butter." 

Diabo was supposed to start a new job at a local school this month co-ordinating a greenhouse and garden project, but has been left without work with the closure of schools across the province.

"Kahnawake is a beautiful community," she said. "We're lucky. Overall, we're all here helping each other out."

Food bank accepting donations

It was a sentiment echoed by Playground Poker Club's Mackenzie Kirby. The gaming facility's restaurant, the Rail Coal Fire Bistro, is expecting to prepare meals for around 100 elders come Monday. 

"This is definitely something that took all of us by surprise and turned the world upside down. It's important for everyone at this point to come together," said Kirby.

"This is another example of people stepping up where they can, and that is what we're doing on our end through food preparation and storage."

The food bank set up in the Kateri School gymnasium in Kahnawake. (Submitted by Ashlan Phillips)

One of the local schools has turned into a distribution centre for the food bank. Phillips said they're accepting donations of non-perishable foods, snacks for children, baby food, formula, pet food, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables that can be stored, like bags of apples, oranges, potatoes, onions and carrots.

"Whatever people are willing to give," said Phillips.

The first boxes were delivered Friday and will be provided every two weeks, or as needed. They've already seen donations small and large from individuals and local businesses.

"It's really good to see the community coming together at a time like this," said Phillips.

"That's how we work. People can butt heads as much as they want, but when our community is in crisis, we always come together."


Ka’nhehsí:io Deer is a Kanien’kehá:ka journalist from Kahnawà:ke, Que. She is currently a reporter with CBC Indigenous covering communities across Quebec.