Essential businesses, the food bank, non-profits and charities in our community have not shut down at any time during this pandemic. Their priorities haven’t changed, and they have risen to the challenge, pivoting their operations to ensure that those most vulnerable in our community, who have been disproportionately impacted this year, get the support they need.
“The biggest shift we’ve had to make was managing a 307 per cent increase in emergency food assistance referrals, compared to the same time last year,” Kim Wilhelm, director of development at the Food Bank of Waterloo Region, said.
“We had a 307 per cent increase in new households accessing food assistance, and we’ve increased our deliveries by 160 per cent,” she explained.
As a result, the Food Bank of Waterloo Region has significantly increased their transportation capacity by 140 per cent to ensure that they could make deliveries — which are now an imperative aspect of ensuring the safety of staff, volunteers, partners and all others who interact with the organization. With gratitude, Wilhelm credits the immense support they’ve received from the community as a large factor in their ability to meet these needs.
“People sort of said, ‘If I have the means, I need to help those that may not. [Those] who may have been let go from their jobs, who are struggling right now,’” Wilhelm said.
Thanks to the generosity from the community, the Food Bank of Waterloo Region has been able to accomplish more than they could in the past: packing food hampers on-site, which they didn’t do in the past, and sourcing and acquiring different equipment and supplies.
Margaret Lucas, development director at House of Friendship, shared a similar reflection on the outpouring of support their organization has received.
“Any chance I get to brag [about] our community, I have to take it, because we truly feel incredibly grateful. This community has done its best to step up,” Lucas said.
House of Friendship, which offers support in the areas of addiction treatment, food, housing and neighbourhoods, has also had to drastically modify their services.
“Not one program we offer has gone unimpacted by this pandemic. We’ve made a lot of changes to keep everybody safe, whether that’s the way we provide food through our emergency food hamper program, or how we deliver food into low-income neighbourhoods,” Lucas said.
One significant and impressive way that House of Friendship has pivoted their programs is through implementing a Shelter Care model. While it may be a more expensive way to serve, it allows them to offer on-site health care and keep up with their increased demand.
They’ve also moved their entire shelter facility, first to the Radisson Hotel and now again to the tower at the Inn of Waterloo. This has allowed them to more than double the number of men served — from 51 before the pandemic hit, to 110 individuals currently residing with them. Moreover, it has allowed them to meet this greater need in a way that allows for social distancing and isolation.
“The really exciting part is that through this new model we’ve switched to, we have been able to house over 56 men in the first six months. We haven’t seen that in years, so that’s really huge. We’ve also seen a big decrease of 50 per cent in overdoses, and a 75 per cent decrease in the use of emergency medical services, because of that on-site healthcare,” Lucas said.
That’s just one example of a silver lining this community’s local charities have seen despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic. Over at A Better Tent City, hosted inside Lot 42, 24 small cabins have been created to provide shelter for those experiencing homelessness in our community during a period where we’re all supposed to be staying home.
Jeff Willmer, who helped spearhead this initiative, reminded us that they are very much in need of additional funding to continue to provide basic necessities, as well as to buy building materials that will allow them to provide more safe and secure spaces for those tenting indoors. They’re relying on this support to accommodate more people as the weather gets colder.
Both Wilhelm and Lucas acknowledged that things continue to change daily, and our community has not experienced this pandemic in the winter yet. This means that services will likely continue to adjust.
Ultimately, due to the ever-changing nature of these circumstances, these organizations continue to encourage financial donations as the most impactful way to offer support for those who have the means to do so.
“What I want to say to the community is: check up on each other. Check up on your neighbours … when you walk down the street and pass somebody, look them in the eye and say a hearty hello, even with your mask on,” Lucas said.
“I think this is a time for humanity to shine, and trying to do everything we can to make sure all community members, from whatever walk of life, belong, are cared for and thrive.”
Jenna is an artist, freelance writer and programming coordinator working in KW’s tech industry. When she’s not working, you can find Jenna singing around town, picking through the poetry section of used book stores or soaking up the sun whenever she has the chance.