Firefighters pitch in $100k as Mississauga rallies around local food bank
Just a few short weeks ago, some grocery store shelves were empty. Panic buying across Canada led to the disappearance of toilet paper, canned foods, pastas and bread. Milk was being bought by the cartload. Hordes of shoppers made trips to stockpile items like flour and rice, terrified a full lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19 would leave them trapped without essentials.
The fear was blown out of proportion by videos and images on social media that hastened the panic. As some went manic, caught up in their own anxiety, others suffered.
A Peel resident stockpiles flour into her shopping cart.
Food banks around the country, whose shelves are normally stacked with the goods people elbowed each other to grab, found themselves without their normal supply.
But while some retreated into themselves, many others across Peel had an altogether different reaction, as things grew more grim.
Premier Doug Ford set out a series of measures to slow the spread of the virus and Ontario’s economy ground to a halt. As all but the most important businesses were forced to close, employees were laid off and their sources of income vanished.
In Peel, a variety of groups felt the pressure. The City of Mississauga, facing estimated losses of almost $60 million by June, was left with no choice but to temporarily lay off roughly 2,000 non-essential and part-time staff, while the Fiat-Chrysler plant in Brampton shut down until the crisis ends.
These two groups represent the more fortunate in both cities, with Mississauga working to top-up benefits for its laid off staff and auto workers generally represented by strong unions. Thousands of other families, with no safety net and rent or mortgages to pay, found themselves in an even more precarious situation.
Many of these families have turned to food banks. But even they are hurting.
In Mississauga, data from the Who’s Hungry report in 2019 showed food bank use in the city was growing at four times the GTA average long before the pandemic struck. Through the Toronto Region as a whole, food bank use ticked up an average of four percent last year, even dropping in some places such as Etobicoke.
Mississauga saw a 16 percent rise.
COVID-19 means that number will likely grow again, significantly, in 2020, with the Mississauga Food Bank already reporting visits up by 10 percent, compared to the same time last year.
“We are seeing an increase in the number of new families coming in … it is higher [than last year] in terms of people using the food bank for the first time,” Meghan Nicholls, Executive Director of the Mississauga Food Bank, recently told The Pointer. “People are having to use these systems for the first time and we are providing information to help navigate accessing social services which they might not have had to do before.”
In order to deal with lower than normal donations and higher demand, the Mississauga Food Bank needs hundreds of thousands of dollars more than previously received. Generally, between March and May, the organization relies on donations of between $400,000 and $500,000 to serve its clients. As a result of COVID-19, supply chain issues and massive demand, the Mississauga Food Bank finds itself in need of more than $800,000 to fulfill its mandate and feed families in Peel.
“We know that many people are struggling to make ends meet and relying on food banks,” Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie, who also runs an annual drive for donations to support the organization, said at a press conference last week. “Emergency situations like these put additional stress on their already tight budgets. Our local food bank, the Mississauga Food Bank, needs help raising $840,000 … to keep their shelves stocked during this crisis. They need the love and support of this community — now more than ever.”
Less than a week on from the initial appeal, led by the Mississauga Mayor, the organization has received donations totalling more than $228,000, 30 percent of the sum they need.
The first commitment to help the Mississauga Food Bank came from Mohamad Fakih, the owner of Paramount Fine Foods and a well known local philanthropist. “For those of us who are able, it’s time to open our hearts [and] to open our wallets to help,” he said, pledging to donate a dollar for every retweet his post promoting the food bank received with a cap of $10,000. “We all know this is a time of great challenge — so much of our daily lives have changed. For some of us it's an inconvenience, but for others it’s a crisis.”
Meghan Nicholls, Executive Director of the Mississauga Food Bank
Soon afterwards, Nav Bhatia, known better as The (Raptors’) Superfan, pledged up to $5,000 under a similar scheme. He also promised anyone who donated more than $1,000 to the food bank would be invited to a post-pandemic event to celebrate their generosity with signed merchandise, hinting he may tempt some basketball stars along as well.
The Mississauga Fighters Association Benevolent Fund, the charitable arm of the firefighters’ union, joined the cause, pledging $100,000 to help keep the Mississauga Food Bank on its feet. “In a typical year we strive to donate about $100,000,” Union President Chris Varcoe explained to The Pointer, saying money is normally distributed across a variety of different causes. This year, the severity of COVID-19 means the group may end up giving double to causes in Mississauga, with $100,000 for the food bank and the same sum shared between different charities. “Over the years, a surplus has been built up and we’re going to be using some of the surplus to make a sizable donation,” Varcoe added.
On the frontlines of duty in the fight against COVID-19, firefighters put themselves in harms way as part of their job. Despite the dangers of this role, especially during a pandemic, the union boss says firefighters remain grateful and privileged still to be employed.
“In times of need, firefighters are always there in one capacity or another and we like to think we’re also there in a charitable sense too,” he said. “We’re fortunate, our jobs are certainly in demand these days and we’d like the opportunity to help those who are less fortunate. We’re talking about people who are struggling to have enough to eat.”
Nicole McInerney, Supervisor of Communications for Crombie, confirmed the mayor had also personally donated after the appeal.
There is still more money to be raised by the organization and no end in sight for its vital role in the crisis. However, the city’s residents and leaders will be buoyed by their community’s response and the manner in which Mississauga has dug deep.
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