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Caring during COVID-19: Organizations help community through pandemic

Big smiles from the Parkdale Food Centre staff as they head out on food deliveries. The centre is providing neighbours with 6-10 day supplies of food to help them through the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo courtesy of Deb Abbott.

By Charlie Senack 

With COVID-19 cases on the rise, local non-profit organizations are seeing an increase in calls for assistance. But with a state of emergency declared, and people asked to practice social distancing, the way they operate has also had to change.

The Parkdale Food Centre, located at 30 Rosemount Ave, typically provides food to 100 families a week, bringing in more than $10,000 in groceries every seven days. As the pandemic continues, their demand has been on the rise, as many people were left without a paycheck as businesses shut down. 

“Lots of people are calling us who are not normally calling us,” said Parkdale Food Centre Executive Director Karen Secord. 

She added that the Centre decided to close their doors as a way of practicing social distancing which resulted in all of their walk-in programs being cancelled. 

“We are no longer holding a drop-in space which is pretty much our model,” she said. “It’s really unfortunate though because people have really come to rely on us for their meals.”

As a result, they were forced to move to a delivery model only, something they typically only do for the elderly or people with mobility issues or disabilities. 

They are now dropping off 10 days worth of food to their clients. They are also putting a box of frozen goods outside of their location for people to pick up if they are in need of a hot meal. 

“We want people to have less anxiety,” said Karen. “Normally, if you don’t have enough food, your anxiety is high and, let’s face it, we don’t know what’s coming next.”

A close up of one of the many meals the Parkdale Food Centre is preparing these days. Photo courtesy of Deb Abbott.

The Kitchissippi community is a caring one, Karen said, noting that they have been relying on businesses for support. 

Just as the province declared a state of emergency, the Centre received a call from Jessica Carpinone, owner of Bread by Us, located at 1065 Wellington Street West. She wanted to find a way to support the local community-run organization. 

Jessica was forced to close up shop and temporarily lay off her staff of 11, but even at a time of unpredictability in her own life, she wanted to find a way to lend a helping hand. 

“The gap between people who have the funds to get through such a difficult time and people who are just living day-to-day just seemed really clear over the past few weeks,” she said. “We saw people in our store who were rightfully nervous and were rightfully stockpiling — picking up three to four times the amount of bread they would normally buy.” 

A Go Fund Me page was quickly launched with the target of raising $3,000 — a goal Bread By Us quickly surpassed, raising over $13,000 in less than a week. 

The money will be used to make 100 loaves of bread and 120 croissants every two days for the next few weeks, some of which will be used by the Parkdale Food Centre. The rest will go to other organizations such as Bethany Hope and Gloucester Emergency Food Aid. 

Other Ottawa businesses are also finding ways to give back, like Red Apron that is making 100 take-home frozen meals daily for at least 10 days. Wellington Gastro Pub is also making 1,000 litres of soup which they are distributing in one litre tins. 

Over at Cornerstone Housing For Women, the organization is heavily investing in safety measures, but all of that comes at a high cost. 

“To give you an example, one of our biggest changes is with how we are serving food,” said Kia Rainbow, executive director at Cornerstone Housing for Women. “We used to have a breakfast buffet in the morning at our Booth Street location, but now we are bringing a brown bag to the women’s rooms.”

Other measures include removing most chairs from the dining room and moving from ceramic dishes to paper plates and plastic cutlery, Kia said. 

“It’s not particularly great for the environment, but it’s what we need to be doing right now for everyone’s safety,” she added. 

Cornerstone is also bringing in Netflix and the internet for their clients, a move which has never been done before but is important for everyone’s wellbeing. 

Kia said they are seeing an increase in their clients feeling very agitated and hopes this advancement will help them cope through this challenging time. 

“The reason we are doing this is, if we need women to socially isolate if they have any symptoms of COVID-19, we can’t have them staring at the walls — I mean that is just cruel and inhuman,” Kia said. “This way they can self-isolate and be ok.”

Both the Parkdale Food Centre and Cornerstone Housing for Women are looking for financial donations at this time to help them with these new costs. Parkdale also said they are looking for donations of cloth grocery bags which they use to distribute food.

On March 25, the Parkdale Food Centre had to make the tough decision to temporarily suspend operations after one of their employees fell ill. While it’s not believed to be COVID-19 related, the centre decided to postpone their services for everyone’s safety. To find out what services are currently operating, visit parkdalefoodcentre.ca.



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