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Lending a helping hand Volunteering in kingston

Although Canada is considered a rich country with vast resources, a significant number of Canadians, including many in Kingston, live with some degree of food insecurity, and our communities depend on volunteers to help those in need.

Research has shown that about 13 percent of Canadians live with some food insecurity which is defined as being the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. That represents about one in eight Canadians and Kingston is an average city in that respect with the same percentage of its residents suffering from some food insecurity.

Although we do not have the statistics for 2020, all indications are that the current COVID-19 pandemic has made this situation worse with many low-income earners losing their primary sources of income.

This social problem is not always recognized by many residents but fortunately, Kingston also has a vibrant community of volunteers who are willing to pitch in and help those that need a hand. As a city that is very popular in Canada for retirement Kingston has many retirees, with some time on their hands, and a number of service organizations that are willing and able to help in many ways. Like many other cities, Kingston has a food bank but in addition, there are also a number of other organizations that provide food to those in need.

The Food Sharing Project and Isthmus are organizations that provide healthy food to kids in school to help them perform better while learning.

“We know that if we provide them with food, they’ll do better at school as they’ll be able to concentrate better,” says Brenda Moore, a retired principal and chair of the Food Sharing Project.

“We found that many kids would get back to school on Monday very hungry because they had not eaten properly on the weekend. So Isthmus fills that gap by providing school kids in need with a bag of healthy food on Fridays,” says Paul Elsley, a retired teacher and chair of the Isthmus program.

“We found that many kids would get back to school on Monday very hungry because they had not eaten properly on the weekend.”

Clockwise from top: Paul Elsley, a retired teacher, packing food for Isthmus; Brenda Moore, a retired principal, packing boxes for The Food Sharing Project; Leanne Cater, a morning radio show announcer, preparing packages at the Kingston Partners in Mission Foodbank.

Other organizations like the Salvation Army, Martha’s Table and Lunch by George offer free meals for many people throughout the year. Lionhearts, another organization that now provides free meals, used to be focused on food rescue and redistribution to other groups, but its members started providing meals at the start of the current pandemic as they saw an increase in needs.

“We provide meals at three separate locations in the area, three days a week in Amherstview, six days a week at the Kingston Community Health Centre, and seven days a week at our downtown location at Stages,” says Monika Cook, a longtime volunteer and the community liaison for Lionhearts.

Lionhearts has provided more than 150,000 meals between the start of the pandemic in March until November. They provide meals at three separate locations in Kingston and they have over 160 volunteers working in three shifts a day to make it all happen.

“We provide meals at three separate locations in the area.”

Stages, a night club in downtown Kingston which was closed in March because of the pandemic, is open seven nights a week to serve a meal for anyone in need. As of January, Stages is also used as a warming centre from 8 to 11 p.m.
Bernie Robinson started this community garden on his farm with the idea that he would grow food for different organizations in the city. Robinson pays a coordinator to liaise with the various organizations in the city that volunteer to work at the garden or who use the produce for their food security programs.

In addition to getting food donated by local businesses and purchasing some food, these organizations also depend on a few community gardens for fresh produce. These gardens are made possible by the generous provision of land and other resources but they also depend on the hard work of many volunteers. Volunteers are the key to success, not only for the community gardens, but for all the organizations helping to alleviate food insecurity.

“Volunteers are the backbone of what we are able to do,” says Dan Irwin, the executive director of the Partners in Mission Foodbank in Kingston.

Volunteers are depended on for many tasks, from weeding and harvesting the gardens, collecting and packing food items, preparing meals and serving them, and sometimes delivering food packages to homes as well.

Jesse Tieman, the co-host of the morning show Boss Lady and Jesse on Country 93.5 volunteers to pack food boxes at the Kingston Partners in Mission Foodbank. With the onset of the pandemic the food bank lost many of its elderly volunteers so Tieman and his radio co-host decided to help out. “Since we have time we thought we would help out, especially now heading into the holidays. There is a lot of need this year because of Covid,” he says.

“I’m doing this for selfish reasons,” says Peter Merkley, a Rotarian and one of the many volunteers at a community garden. “It gets me out of the house with some fresh air and I even get to visit with like-minded individuals in our community.”

Volunteers do this work for a variety of reasons. For many, they do it initially because it gives them something to do, a purpose. But after helping a few times, they quickly recognize that they get much more out of this than just an outing. They get a real sense of accomplishment, a sense that they have done something selfless to help someone in need.

“I’m doing this for selfish reasons, it gets me out of the house with some fresh air and I even get to visit with like-minded individuals in our community.”

Clockwise from top: A Queen's University student helps prepare bags of food for Isthmus; A volunteer prepares clothes and other essentials to distribute to homeless people as they are provided meals at Stages; Patti Clow, a volunteer with Lionhearts has been helping to serve meals since April. “It feels good to give back,” she says.

“It feels good to give back. It could be me lining up needing a hand at some point. And the people we help are very appreciative,” says Patti Clow, a volunteer for Lionhearts who has been helping since April.

Some of the volunteers are also community members who have needed to take advantage of some of these programs when they went through difficult periods in their own lives. For them, it is important to give back because they have first hand experience of how these programs were able to turn their lives around.

“It feels good to give back. It could be me lining up needing a hand at some point. And the people we help are very appreciative.”

“I have been helping with the Community Harvest Kingston for seven years. I started helping after I took advantage of what it had to offer because I wanted fresh food and I could not afford it at the time,” says Delina Yuill. “I’m involved in housing and food security because I was homeless myself for a few years so I understand that the need is real.”

“I’m involved in housing and food security because I was homeless myself for a few years so I understand that the need is real.”

Food security is likely to continue to be an issue for many people for years to come. But seeing so many volunteers willing to help to stem its impact on real people is heartwarming.

Created By
Daniel Geleyn
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Daniel Geleyn