U of T Scarborough partners to help local food banks receive much needed donations

Opening of CARES at UTSC
The Event Centre at Highland Hall was transformed into a packaging centre where volunteers from U of T Scarborough and the local community repackage food delivered by GlobalMedic. The donations will be sent to local food banks, which have been struggling

Berton Woodward

To Juanita Muise, volunteering for the new CARES project at U of T Scarborough was a no-brainer. “There was a time when I needed help – I know what it’s like,” says UTSC’s Indigenous Engagement Coordinator. “This is a really great partnership – everyone working for the common good.”

What they’re doing, as Mayor John Tory explained at a carefully distanced opening event on Saturday, May, 9, is repackaging food bought in bulk for distribution in smaller amounts to food banks in the Scarborough and Durham areas, where it is much needed. Behind the unusually quick creation of the project are U of T Scarborough, the crisis-response organization GlobalMedic, Ward 25 Councillor Jennifer McKelvie and City of Toronto staff.

“With the huge number of layoffs due to COVID-19, food utilization through food banks has skyrocketed in Scarborough,” says Andrew Arifuzzaman, U of T Scarborough’s Chief Administrative Officer. “But the food banks have had difficulty getting supplies, with donations down, and difficulty operating due to social distancing guidelines. We have done a lot of work on food insecurity issues at U of T Scarborough, and we’ve got the space and the volunteers.

“So we have an opportunity to live our values and to support our community.”

The Event Centre in Highland Hall has been transformed into a packaging centre where the well-distanced volunteers, initially involving City staff but now comprising U of T Scarborough staff and students plus people from the community, repack food delivered by GlobalMedic in 50-to-100-pound containers. At packing stations, they create 500-gram bags of rice, lentils, barley, chick peas, green peas and kidney beans that food banks can set out on their shelves.

CARES launch at UTSC
Mayor John Tory and Scarborough—Rouge Park MP Gary Anandasangaree are given a tour by UTSC staff member Melanie Blackman (Photo by Tara Welch)

This week they will also be packing hampers of food that can be placed in people’s vehicles in a contactless drive-through in a campus parking lot, starting at the weekend. In future, GlobalMedic hopes to add sanitation packages of soap, shampoo and the like. Fresh produce may also follow.

The City has worked to open food banks across Toronto, Tory said at the small ceremony in Highland Hall on Saturday. “CARES is one way in which we can serve a specific community that needs help during these challenging times,” he said. “This is an inspiring partnership.”

Also touring the facility were McKelvie and Scarborough-Rouge Park MP Gary Anandasangaree.

Arifuzzaman says the project came together after he spoke about food insecurity with McKelvie and Humber College people at a working committee meeting on Friday, April 24. They put him on to GlobalMedic, and the following Tuesday he met at U of T Scarborough with GlobalMedic Executive Director and founder Rahul Singh. That Thursday, the project was up and running in Highland Hall and took its first delivery under the new CARES acronym, which stands for Collective Action and Response for Everyone in Scarborough.

“It happened very quickly,” says Arifuzzaman.

GlobalMedic, which is officially the David McAntony Gibson Foundation, has provided disaster relief in 73 countries since 2002, mainly through volunteers. Singh says U of T Scarborough is now one of three major distribution centres across the GTA, along with Humber College and the City of Brampton.

He notes that a bag of lentils in a grocery might cost $2-$3, but by buying in bulk, “we can produce that same bag for about 60 cents.”

GlobalMedic is also concerned that people have dignity in receiving the high-quality food, so it puts professional-style labels on the bags. “It actually says McAntony’s Menu,” chuckles Singh.

People interested in volunteering to help package food can register at https://www.utsc.utoronto.ca/partnerships/cares-utsc.