Serving Differently During COVID-19

If executive director Graham Hill could use just one word to describe Food for Life’s staff this year, it’s “adaptable.” With big hearts and pragmatism, our small but mighty team has quickly adjusted to a 30 percent increase in friends and neighbours reaching out for food support in the wake of COVID-19.

Early in the pandemic, “we put into place standard protocol: Masking, screening, social distancing, and signage at programs,” says Hill. “But we also had to ask ourselves ‘How do we actually serve our neighbours turning to us during such uncertainty? How do we actually move the food?’”

Food for Life’s “new normal” has included foyer pick-up programs, delivery-to-the-door programs, and adapting to pre-packaged food bags instead of a grocery store model where participants could choose and handle their food.

“Our community programs have always been run where drivers drop off bulk food and then programs run almost like a market,” says Donna Slater, Director of Impact and Research at Food for Life. “When COVID hit, we started packing bags according to counts. It’s a lot more organizing from a numbers point of view as opposed to sending bulk food each day,” she says of the process that relies heavily on volunteers to pre-package bags.

“A shift has really happened to get people served efficiently but in a safe manner,”

Donna Slater

“Volunteerism has been the biggest challenge because everything we do relies on people,” says Hill, adding that making sure systems were “safe, secure, and easy” for everyone who handles food was the top priority. “It was really an amazing adaptation by everyone,” he says.

One part of Food for Life’s pivot was building and strengthening partnerships especially when a number of our programs were forced to close. Launched in partnership with the Halton Region, our Essential Goods delivery program has ensured that everyone who has come to trust Food for Life to provide much-needed healthy, recovered food wouldn’t go hungry. The program prioritized those who are especially isolated during the pandemic, including seniors.

“A shift has really happened to get people served efficiently but in a safe manner,” says Slater.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Food for Life is proud to share that we haven’t missed a single day of serving. “We have been able to pivot because of our adaptability and our collaborations!” says Hill.

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