A partnership between several local agencies will see dozens of bagged lunches distributed seven days a week to the city’s most vulnerable over the next three months.
The initiative involving the London Food Bank, RBC Place London, and Youth Opportunities Unlimited (Y.O.U.) will kick off this Wednesday and comes as the COVID-19 pandemic has seen local front line agencies flooded with requests for support from members of the public.
Starting next week, RBC Place will begin preparing 100 bagged lunches every day in its commercial kitchens, while Y.O.U. will prepare 60 lunches a day to give out to at-risk and homeless youth.
Each lunch will cost around $5 to make, and will consist of a sandwich, fruit, a snack, and a can of water courtesy of Labatt Brewery, said Glen Pearson, the food bank’s co-executive director.
Pearson is heading the initiative for the food bank, and says the agency announced the idea earlier this week during a meeting of the Social Impact and Recovery Task Force, one of two task forces formed by Mayor Ed Holder in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“What we learned was although there’s lots of food being donated, and the public is really generous, there were many that were vulnerable that were not getting those supplies,” Pearson said Thursday.
“And part of the big lesson here is that these people were vulnerable before the crisis… they’re even more vulnerable now.”
Talks had already gotten underway with Y.O.U. to jump-start the plan when RBC Place caught wind of the idea through Pillar Non-Profit and came knocking.
“It made all the difference,” Pearson said of their involvement. “Suddenly the doors blew open and we realised we have opportunity here now to scale up, and other things should we need to.
The convention centre’s share of lunches will be prepared by its executive chef and executive sous chef, and then packaged by two volunteers made up of rotating RBC Place staff, said general manager and CEO, Lori Da Silva.
“Everybody’s very excited to be able to help out and take this initiative to the next level to make sure that people are getting, at least, a good lunch every day,” she said.
At Y.O.U., lunches will be prepared by youth interns in the agency’s cafe kitchen, some of whom have gone through periods of homelessness themselves, said Steve Cordes, Y.O.U.’s executive director.
“They get exactly what it’s like to be facing the experiences that some of these young people are facing right now,” he said.
“For them, it means so much more, because rather than being somebody who’s on the outside trying to look for the help, they’re in a position now where they can offer help to people they can understand because they’ve walked in those shoes before.”
Once prepared and packaged, food from RBC Place and Y.O.U. will then be distributed as needed through the food bank to other agencies, where they will be given to Londoners.
Pearson said he expects that the number of bagged lunches will increase well past 160 once more local agencies hear about the initiative and contact the food bank.
“We don’t even have enough right now for the 100 lunches. It’s only been maybe enough for about 50 or 60 that have expressed interest… I think the 60 at Y.O.U. will probably stay between 60 and 100, but I think the 100 at the convention centre will go much higher.
“But we don’t know that yet. We’re not there.”
The food bank will be covering the cost of supplies used by RBC Place, while Y.O.U.’s portion is being covered by a $60,000 donation from Cargill Ltd., Pearson said.
“If it stays roughly in the ballpark that we think it will, it will be about $100,000 for us for the three months,” Pearson said, noting funding has come through in donations to offset the cost.
In tandem with the bagged lunch program, Pearson says the food bank will also be supplying food to two community resource centres in the city — Crouch Neighbourhood and Northwest London — and also helping at-risk members of Indigenous communities in the area.
In total, the three plans together are expected to cost between $200,000 to $250,000 for the food bank to fund, he said, noting the cost could change as things get going and as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
“We can do that, though, because the public has been so generous in this time,” he said.
“It’s just been amazing, the businesses have been amazing, and that’s given us the confidence to say, ‘well, at least for three months, we can do those things.'”