Tue | May 26, 2020

Community initiative helps to ease distress during pandemic

Published:Monday | April 6, 2020 | 12:11 AMNeil Armstrong/Gleaner Writer

A GROUP of community members has started an initiative that so far has helped over 600 seniors, shut-ins and international students weather the coronavirus pandemic.

Led by broadcaster Elaine Thompson, with support from JN Bank, JN Money Transfer, Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA), and a team of volunteers, they provided cooked meal to 300 people over the March 20-22 weekend.

Thompson said that on the first day they provided 50 meals; on the second, 100; and on the third, 150.

They repeated this service to the same numbers over the March 27-29 weekend.

Three chefs – Boswell of Chalice Catering, Kareema Beckles of Taste So Good Inc, and Tony Scott, prepared the meals.

Given the precautions regarding social distancing, there were no more than five persons in the kitchen. Some 80 per cent of the meals were delivered, while 20 per cent were for pickup.

Many of the seniors are not mobile, so the three drivers who volunteered to deliver the meals did so on rotation. The number of drivers subsequently increased to at least six.

“We gave them their list and the area, they picked up, and they delivered. It’s been really, really phenomenal,” said Thompson.

She said they would evaluate each week to determine whether or not to continue on the following weekend.

On March 23, the government of Ontario announced that only essential services should remain in operation. Food delivery is an essential service.

Thompson said the initiative falls under that classification and it helps that they have a public health official on board their team – Sylvanus Thompson of the Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA), who is an associate director of Toronto Public Health - to ensure that social distancing and other protocols were being followed in the kitchen.

The JCA is closed to the public.

“This project targets a specific group and is a special initiative outside of that criteria, so we are permitted to go ahead.”

Thompson said that the JCA has a list of vulnerable seniors and works closely with the coordinators of Jamaican international students, so it was easy to identify who needed help.

People also found out about their initiative through word of mouth and social media. “It’s 50-50; 50 per cent found us based on the word being out there, and then the other 50 per cent would have been existing folks who are challenged that we know of.”

Thompson said some of the Jamaican international students were due to go home, but are stuck here.

“Some of them are supposed to be graduating this spring, but there’s a lot of uncertainty; a lot of them are in limbo right now. They have limited resources, so we’re trying to fill in the gap,” she said.

Danae Peart, one of the volunteer drivers, went to deliver a meal to a student at York University who was on the phone with her mother, who lives in Jamaica.

The mother thanked Peart for taking care of her child in Canada. They were both very appreciative. A similar gratitude was expressed by many of the seniors.