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Food, glorious food


BY SHELLEY CARROLL

At the best of times, this is a big "food" week for many. The Seder was served in homes across Don Valley North last night, and this Sunday there will be a traditional Easter supper along with a visit from the Easter Bunny. Usually, families gather in large groups to share a meal in observance of these important religious holidays — but of course, things are looking quite different this year.

I could complain about not being able to bring my father home from his long-term care facility due to the quarantine. I could grumble about my daughter having to work at the hospital on Sunday, and every other day, during Holy Week. But I won't. That's because right now there are people all around us who are scrambling after being laid off for the foreseeable future. If we are lucky enough to have the same grocery budget as before, then this is the time to both give thanks and give to people in need. Safe shopping The City’s Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) has been tackling the rise in food insecurity since the day we locked down four weeks ago. For those who are still working or have an unchanged grocery budget, it has taken some time to adjust to the new norms around safe shopping.

By now, most of us know the dos and don’ts made clear by public health experts: 1. Make a list of what you need and designate only one day per week to go to the store. If you haven’t made a list in years, try menu-planning and keeping the list on your phone. It’s a whole new world when you can delete the items as you put them in your cart. 2. Stores have been asked to limit the number of customers inside to allow for physical distancing. We should arrive prepared to comply with their safety systems, which means you may have to line up outside before being allowed in. 3. Once inside the store, shop efficiently — this isn't the time to casually browse. Make sure you are only touching items you are putting in your cart. Stand back and wait for others to finish if they are looking at the items you want — don't reach across or crowd people. 4. My healthcare worker-daughter demands I follow these steps when I return home from the store:

  • Wash my hands immediately after getting home

  • Disinfect each item before putting it away

  • Wash my hands again

Only then does she allow me to touch my darn face for the first time since I left the house. (We’ve nicknamed her "Dr. Carroll" because we can never dispute her COVID-19 rules.)

Now you may ask: what if I'm wearing a mask and gloves? That's fine — but this does not make you invincible. If you have the virus but aren't showing symptoms, that gear may have protected others from you. However, all the shopping rules above still apply. You still need to distance and keep your hands away from your face. If you wear a mask and gloves, you must remove them properly and wash your hands immediately after. When you can't shop Many of the calls my staff team are taking every day are from people who can’t shop. The number of people who cannot afford groceries is growing rapidly. You've heard the latest unemployment numbers — this comes as no surprise. Even in normal times, hundreds of our neighbours in Don Valley North rely on the Oriole Food Space. We call it a "Food Space" rather than a food bank because they function as a food bank two days a week and offer nutrition and cooking programs every other day. Food bank users learn helpful and delicious ways to maximize what they get in their baskets. In turn, this builds their capacity to stretch their limited grocery money and helps make their families more food secure over time.

Now, the Oriole Food Space has to scale up to serve thousands. Their parent organization, North York Harvest, is doing their best to help. The EOC has helped by providing a forklift for much larger delivery operations. But moving forward, Oriole can’t do it alone. As a result, the City is working with several large food banks as well as community and corporate partners to develop a food access strategy. Part of this strategy involves opening up additional food banks in some library branches and Toronto Community Housing buildings. You can visit 211.ca to find out where and how to use these services. The City is also working with the Red Cross and other partners to provide food hamper delivery to seniors and others in need who are unable to leave their homes. This service is made available for qualifying seniors and others in self-isolation who do not have alternative access to food. If this applies to you, call 1-833-204-9952 for eligibility and registration information.

How to help If you want to help your neighbours, you can donate non-perishable food to food banks or drop off food donations at local fire halls. If you know of any restaurants wondering what to do with extra food, encourage them to donate to Second Harvest’s FoodRescue.ca. Those interested in volunteering should register with Volunteer Toronto or SPARK Ontario. However, the best way you can help is through a cash donation. Volunteering to help sort food is difficult right now due to social distancing rules, but you can feel confident about a cash donation. When you go online and donate to North York Harvest, you are helping our Oriole Food Space. I have been to their headquarters multiple times to help sort food, and I can tell you they are administratively lean — your donation really does end up in hungry mouths.

We may not be able to visit and gather with our loved ones for Passover, Easter and Ramadan like we have in previous years, but we can still foster the holiday spirit by helping our neighbours in need. After all, we are in this together.

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