As the novel coronavirus continues to hurt the economy, Canada’s food banks are experiencing an increase in demand during the pandemic by 20 per cent on average, according to Food Banks Canada.
Early in the provincial lockdown, the Bluffs Food Bank closed its doors. According to Suman Roy, the founder of the Scarborough Food Initiative, the Bluffs Food Bank was servicing about 350 to 380 households every week.
In the first few weeks of the lockdown, Roy and neighbours put their pocket money together to buy and deliver groceries to a handful of seniors and other vulnerable people who are unable to get out of their houses in the neighbourhood. Roy set up an email and phone number and it started to circulate. In the first week, the Scarborough Food Security Initiative received 375 phone calls
“We quickly realized this wasn’t a sustainable way of doing things, out of our pockets. So then we started reaching out to our friends, our corporate friends and different organizations around the city,” said Roy.
Before the Scarborough Food Initiative registered as an official nonprofit in the beginning of the lockdown, they had a hard time getting support from the community.
“Nobody knew what was going on. Everybody was nervous and also being a small community organization without any proper status or legal existence, nobody was willing to support us so it was really hard,” said Roy.
Nine weeks into the operation, the Scarborough Food Initiative’s volunteers deliver food to around 1,200 households across Scarborough Southwest, according to Roy.
With the support of Warden Woods Community Centre, the Scarborough Food Initiative is operating there while their own programs are shut down.
Before the pandemic, some of the Scarborough Food Initiative’s duties included community gardening, teaching youth how to cook, and giving out Christmas hampers to people who needed them during the holidays.
Years before Suman Roy was a chef and a food activist, he was a new-comer to Canada who experienced food insecurity himself.
“When I moved to North America I had $42 in my pocket and two suitcases full of clothes, that’s all. I didn’t know anybody here. I know what poverty looks like, what hunger looks like, and what it looks like not to have proper shelter,” said Roy.
According to Roy, the desire to help others and his passion for food security inspired him to get involved in advocacy work for the last 15 years in the city.
“I totally understand that there are times when people need that extra boost and extra help. And that is not judging anybody but it is the way of life. If there is somebody to help them when they are in need, it goes a long way down the road,”