6 ways you can help your community during COVID-19

Looking for a way to support your community during this challenging time? We’ve rounded up six great ways you can show your local love, while keeping yourself and others safe.  

1. Volunteer  

Many organizations are in need of in-person and remote volunteers to deliver vital services and resources to community members—but they also need people to be patient.  

“At the local agencies, we are in crisis mode right now,” explains Maureen Fair, Executive Director of United Way-supported West Neighbourhood House. “We are inspired by the drive of people to volunteer, but we need to assess this crisis first, and assess our supply and need for personal protective equipment for our staff and volunteers.” 

Two great ways to find out where and how you can be useful right now is through Spark’s list of volunteer opportunities or Volunteer Toronto’s COVID-19 Volunteer Response Team email blasts. Both will help you find a way to get involved ASAP.  

2. Learn  

You may feel overwhelmed by the constant updates about COVID-19, but it’s important to stay informed about the situation in your community—and what is being asked of citizens. Check out United Way’s list of reliable resources to keep on top of local health and regional developments or check out your municipality’s website or social media channels for updates.  

If you want to keep up to date on how community agencies, local governments and United Way are working together to support our vulnerable friends and neighbours, you can check out this informative webinar that outlines United Way’s community response to COVID-19.

3. Connect  

When asked what people could do right now to help, United Way’s President and CEO Daniele Zanotti has a simple answer: “Call your friends and loved ones. Check in with them. Help them where it’s safe and if you can.” 

It’s critical that we keep reaching out to one another as we self-isolate. While you’re staying at home, give an elderly neighbour or family member a call to see how they’re doing. Offer to drop off groceries to people who don’t feel comfortable, or can’t, go to the store. Write a letter to a friend to let them know you’re thinking about them. Or join a caremongering Facebook group where you can offer moral support and assistance to people in your community.  

4. Share 

We could all use some cheering up these days, which is why we recommend sharing moments of laughter, joy and local love on your social media, in a group chat or with your family. It’s a great way to show people that they’re not alone—and that we can still come together while we’re #stayingathome.  

Need some inspiration? Check out the #caremongering hashtag on Twitter and Instagram!  

5. Give to your local food bank  

Food bank use was already on the rise in Toronto—and now, more than ever, people and families experiencing poverty or food insecurity need easy access to groceries. If you picked up one too many items on your last trip to the store, consider dropping your extras off at your local food bank. TorontoPeel and York Region are all calling for donations right now. 

6. Donate to United Way’s Local Love fund 

You can support United Way’s network of community agencies, which is providing on-the-ground support to people and families across the GTA, by donating to the Local Love Fund. Your gift will: 

  • ensure access to basic needs 
  • provide help for seniors 
  • ensure access to mental health supports  
  • keep our community services running 

Show your local love by giving generously today.  

A recipe for local change in Peel

What if we could re-imagine the way we address hunger in local communities?

A unique pilot project between United Way and the General Mills Foundation in Peel Region is hoping to do exactly that by moving beyond the typical model of food distribution to a more collaborative, community-led approach.

It’s an initiative that comes as the number of people visiting food banks is increasing, rather than decreasing in Peel Region. For example, The Mississauga Food Bank reported an 18 per cent increase in the number of residents accessing their network of food banks and meal programs in 2018.

Access to food is a human right

Where you live shouldn’t determine your access to healthy, nourishing and culturally-appropriate food. But in Peel Region (and across the GTA) financial constraints can prevent our friend and neighbours from accessing the food they need. This has potential immediate and long-term impacts to their physical and mental health and well-being, as well as having a host of other interrelated effects.

Without nourishing food, kids can’t concentrate in school. Adults go to work hungry. And families have to make agonizing choices about keeping the lights on or putting food on the table.

“Access to appropriate, healthy, life-giving food is a universal right,” says Ruth Crammond, United Way Greater Toronto’s Vice President, Community Investment and Development. “But in Peel Region, thousands of people still go without food. It’s a shocking reality in a region as prosperous as the GTA.”

Taking a local approach to food insecurity

While food banks and meal programs have an important role to play when it comes to addressing food insecurity, there’s a lot more to “feeding the hungry” than meeting immediate need.

“Food security is both an immediate and a systemic issue,” explains Crammond. “It’s inextricably linked to poverty and, like poverty, it looks very different from one community to the next.” 

Effectively tackling hunger at a local level means understanding what it looks like and where it exists. In Peel Region, for example, hunger can be hard to see.

“You might see a family of four at the grocery store and they’re buying groceries, ” says Dale Storey, President and Managing Director, General Mills Canada Corporation, “but when they get back to their apartment they can’t take their winter jackets off because they needed to make a trade off between heat and food.”

When you can’t afford a car, or the neighbourhood you live in isn’t well connected to public transit, it can be difficult to even get to a grocery store. For newcomers with limited income or language barriers, it can be hard to ask for help. Newcomers often find themselves in a very different food environment than they are accustomed to and may struggle to make healthy choices because they are unfamiliar with staples supplied by food banks or don’t know how to cook with them.

Following on the footsteps of a similar, and promising, initiative in Greater Twin Cities, United Way Greater Toronto is partnering with the General Mills Foundation to re-imagine local solutions to hunger.

“At General Mills, we believe in the power of food as a force for good in our communities. We are proud to work together with our long-time partners at United Way Greater Toronto to ensure everyone in our hometown community of Mississauga has affordable and reliable access to the food they need and prefer in order to thrive,” says Mary Jane Melendez, President of the General Mills Foundation and Chief Sustainability & Social Impact Officer.

A generous $1-million gift from General Mills is being invested in a number of community food systems grants that will connect residents living in poverty in Mississauga, Ont., with nutritious, culturally appropriate and affordable food. The programs will focus on community education as well as increasing access to food for community agencies, residents and partners across the food system.

Reflecting local demographics and needs

By working together at a “community systems” level, and taking into account local demographics and needs, the following United Way-supported projects are hoping to transform the way we treat hunger.

  • Ecosource’s Deep Roots program connects residents who experience barriers to food access with a network of ten community gardens across Mississauga, which are tailored to local needs.
  • WellFort Community Health Services, on behalf of the Peel Food Action Council, is co-ordinating action to identify local food issues, learn about the local food environment and map out actions to improve and address food access and security.

Not just a pipe dream

Taking a community-led approach is essential to both immediate and long-term, sustainable solutions to hunger.

“We believe achieving food security in Mississauga is possible through enhanced co-operation and innovation across all players in the food system,” says Britt McKee, Executive Director at Ecosource, one of the United Way Greater Toronto agencies that is funded by the General Mills investment.

“It is our collective responsibility to work together to address the complex barriers to food access residents face” explains McKee. “Our goal is to implement creative and culturally-appropriate solutions that are specific to Mississauga.”

While solutions won’t happen overnight, it’s this kind of micro, local change that will help meet immediate need and will provide the blueprint for tackling hunger across a wider geographical footprint. 

How to get involved:

  • Subscribe to Imagine A City where we’ll bring you updates on this project, including successes, challenges and learnings along the way.

How much do you know about food security?

Healthy food is an essential building block to our overall health and wellbeing. It helps children do well in school, ensures we can put our best foot forward at work and allows us to contribute as active members in our community.

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But for too many people living in Toronto and York Region, access to healthy, affordable, and culturally-appropriate food has become a major barrier to a good life. We also know that income is the root cause of food insecurity, and that in order to address this growing problem, we need to work together to close the gaps between those who are doing well financially and those who are not.

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That’s why United Way invests in a network of agencies across our region that help people get the food they need through meal programs, community gardens and kitchens and a mobile food truck. By bringing people together around food, we’re also connecting kids, adults and seniors to their communities, which we know is another essential step in helping them move from a life of poverty to possibility.

To help you learn more about food security, we put together a quiz to test your knowledge.


For detailed answers, click here.