The generosity of Londoners, and local businesses, amid the coronavirus pandemic was on display once again this week after the annual Business Cares Food Drive received an early and sizable $48,321 donation from the London Chamber of Commerce.
The donation was presented at the chamber of commerce’s offices on Thursday to Glen Pearson, the food bank’s co-executive director, and Wayne Dunn, co-chair of the Business Cares Food Drive.
Still more than a month away, the annual food drive sees local businesses come together to collect food and money all in support of the London Food Bank. Last year, more than 300 businesses took part.
“It’s a bit of a COVID story and it’s a bit of lemonade from lemons story,” said London Chamber of Commerce CEO Gerry Macartney during an interview with 980 CFPL’s Mike Stubbs.
How the donation came to be dates back to March, when the chamber of commerce was in the final stretch of organizing its annual Business Achievement Awards ceremony.
Some 1,200 people had been set to attend the gala event. However, a week before it was set to take place, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a global pandemic, forcing the ceremony to be postponed.
“The problem is, everyone had already paid for their tickets, sponsors had already donated their money, films were already in the bank from the various finalists, etc, and all the videos were done, but we had nowhere to put them,” Macartney said.
With attendance capped as a result of the province’s Stage 3 legislation, the chamber of commerce instead held a 50-person event in September that was streamed online for those who couldn’t attend.
At the same time, ticket holders were given a choice about what should be done with their meal portion: have the meal made and delivered to them, or have the money that would have gone toward their meal be donated to the annual Business Cares Food Drive, which runs in December in support of the food bank.
Many ended up choosing the latter option.
“I am so proud of our members and the ticket purchasers for the Business Achievement Awards for having the corporate social responsibility to look forward and say ‘where could I better use those dollars to make sure our community is being looked after?'” Macartney said, adding that, in all, about 800 people had their meal portion go to the food drive.
“We kept that from Wayne and Glen just to sort of tease him a little bit. But when we unveiled the cheque at our office this morning, while they both had masks on, I can guarantee their jaws dropped quite significantly even through the mask.”
According to Food Banks Canada, a $2.60 donation equals one pound of food, meaning the donation from the chamber of commerce equals about 18,600 pounds.
The donation comes ahead of what’s expected to be a busy winter for the food bank and other community agencies, who have been dealing with increased levels of demand as a result of the economic impacts brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, which is now in its second wave in London and Ontario. In August, the London-St. Thomas area reported a 9.3 per cent jobless rate.
Because of that, Pearson says there was a real concern that this year’s Business Cares Food Drive would see a notable drop in donations, with several past participants unable to contribute this time around.
“When we came today, we knew that there was a cheque to be presented from the chamber… but we had no idea it was going to be $48,000,” Pearson said. “Wayne just kind of jumped for joy when he saw it.”
“The important part of it is that this gives us confidence going into the Christmas season… There’s this huge needs out there, obviously. But the business community has found its own way of coming forward even in advance.”
The food bank has recorded a steadily rising number of visits from local families — as much as about 10 per cent every month over the past few months.
And that’s just at the food bank.
“The homeless community numbers are increasing and the food bank has to supply for that. The agency demand is increasing and the food bank has to supply for that,” Pearson said.
“So we have to do both of those things, plus, when the people that are visiting us also increases, that means we’re going have a difficult winter ahead. And we know that because all three of those things are all on the incline, not the decline.”
Despite the challenges ahead, Pearson says he’s optimistic that Londoners will pull through for them.
It was just last week that the London Food Bank announced its virtual fall food drive had collected about 70,000 pounds worth of food in physical and monetary donations. In April, it’s spring food drive collected a staggering 188,000 pounds worth of food, a haul more than double that the year before.
“The increase is there. It’s manageable right now, but as soon as it gets unmanageable, it becomes a real concern… I just know London will be there, they always are,” he said.