In tough times, the strength of community can shine through.
Since March 2020, Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre staff and volunteers have delivered over 100,000 food hampers to those in need of a helping hand as part of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Program.
"Back in March, we had to make the difficult decision to close public access to our sites," explained Rosalyn Boucha, communications manager for Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata. "That was hard, because we are such a community focused organization."
With other community organizations also limiting public access, organizers knew that families already facing insecurity would be at greater risk of going hungry.
"Food security isn’t new to Winnipeg," Boucha said. "But that issue has been magnified by COVID-19. We saw there was a need to address those needs, so we pivoted the community care sites and staff to building food and lunch kits to families who were part of our old programming."
Each day, upwards of 300 food hampers are assembled by Ma Mawi staff. In the afternoon, volunteers pick up packages at Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata’s 575 Larsen Ave. location and deliver them throughout the city.
"Staff and volunteers have been doing such a good job," Boucha noted.
The program is funded in part by the provincial government’s Home Nutrition and Learning program, which aims to provide food for school aged children in need. Additional funding from other partners and donors allows the program to reach others experiencing food insecurity.
"From March to January, we distributed 116,434 food kits, and that number is growing every day," Boucha said.
In addition, around 12,000 personal care kits, which are included upon request, have been delivered, as well as about 4,000 baby supply kits.
"We’re doing an average of 2,000 kits a week, feeding about 4,000 children per week," Boucha said.
As the number of those accessing the program continues to rise, the need for volunteers is a growing challenge for the organization.
Stacy Boone, WRHA Community Facilitator for Transcona and River East, recently signed up as a volunteer delivery driver.
"It was mindblowing, the amount of food that is moving through there," Boone said of the Larsen Avenue location. "They’re just addressing the need and getting to work."
According to Boucha, Ma Mawi gets an average of five to seven drivers a day, but can always use more.
"Each volunteer takes an area of the city, say six to 20 households per driver," she said. "We try to make it as easy as possible, staff organize the kits, it’s super planned out prior to pick up of boxes. We pack the boxes into vehicles in appropriate order, we do a delivery plan to make it easiest and fastest for volunteers."
Delivery of the food hampers is contactless. Drivers are provided with a list of phone numbers to call when delivery is ready.
For Boone, the experience was eye opening.
"As a community facilitator, I need to know how to help people in my community," she said. "Food security is so iffy right now, I just wanted to do something that was safe enough for me to do right now."
Those interested in volunteering or accessing the program can contact 204-925-0300. To learn more, visit www.mamawi.com
The Herald community journalist
Sheldon Birnie is the reporter/photographer for The Herald. The author of Missing Like Teeth: An Oral History of Winnipeg Underground Rock (1990-2001), his writing has appeared in journals and online platforms across Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. A husband and father of two young children, Sheldon enjoys playing guitar and rec hockey when he can find the time. Email him at email@example.com Call him at 204-697-7112