“We didn’t feel it was appropriate to be asking for donations because of the high unemployment rate,” says Liz Tondu, Meals on Wheels’ executive director.
As well, the organization knew that COVID was going to increase demand, and about half of Meals on Wheels’ volunteers had to take leaves of absence.
But the response from Edmontonians was, in Tondu’s words, “mind-blowing and inspirational.” Online donations in 2020 were up 383 per cent over 2019. The Christmas 2020 fundraising campaign raised 21 per cent more funds than the holiday drive from the previous year.
And, when, a call went out for volunteers, more than 300 people responded within a day.
The funds and volunteers were needed, as demand for Meals on Wheels’ services increased greatly during the pandemic. Tondu said that, from February of 2020 to November of 2020, meal production as a whole went up 140 per cent.
“As a whole” is important. While many of us think of Meals on Wheels as a meal service for seniors in need, the client base is much more diverse than that. Demand for breakfasts is up 750 per cent (you read that right).
Meals on Wheels will deliver to people of any age who can’t prepare or access food on their own. This year, the organization provided meals to the COVID isolation centre for the homeless. It provides meals to people who don’t have family supports and just got out of hospital — so they can’t prep or shop for food. There are services for people who are quarantining; there are meals for new mothers. These are just some of the examples.
As well, the organization doesn’t just deliver single-serving meals. There is a frozen-meal service, where multiple dishes are dropped off to a client. There are two grocery services; one sees clients choose from a list provided by the downtown Save-On Foods store, and then the food is dropped off. The other sees a client paired with a volunteer who does the shopping.
“At the core of this, everybody needs good food to keep them going and nourished,” says Jay Bardyla, who took over as the funds development coordinator in early 2021 after volunteering as a driver for the better part of a year.
Because many of the people Meals on Wheels serves are isolated — and many can’t even now go for coffee because of COVID lockdowns — the drop-offs are more than about food; they allow for some in-person interaction. As well, Meals on Wheels began a program that saw volunteers call and simply check up and chat on some of their isolated clients.
Feed the Kids
According to its stats, the Edmonton Food Bank helps more than 20,000 clients per month — and an estimated 8,000 of them are children.
To put that into perspective, the number of the people who use the food bank in a month is a little more than the population of Camrose.
If you just took the 8,000 or so kids the Food Bank helps every month, that works out to about the population of Edson.
The Alberta Farm to Food Bank is a charitable initiative that was launched by Gone Green Farms in Westerose, Alberta (that’s Westerose, not Westeros; it’s near Pigeon Lake and there are no Starks or Lanisters to be found).
Monetary donations are collected and then applied so produce can be donated to the food banks in Edmonton and Calgary.
According to Alberta Farm to Food Bank’s own estimations, these were the lengths of crops planted in 2020 that were earmarked for those in need in this province’s two largest cities.