In February, when a new virus affected huge numbers of people in Wuhan, China and that country imposed a lockdown to curb the spread of the virus, most people in western Canada watched the news thinking, “that’s far away from here.”
When Italy implemented a nation-wide lockdown in March and banks there were forced to suspend mortgages so people wouldn’t lose their homes, many of us on the west coast watched the news with some detachment – and creeping anxiety.
By mid March the virus was present in Vancouver and spreading faster than health officials would like. A state of emergency closed restaurants, cafes, hotels, and ground flights. By the end of that month 1 million jobs had been lost in Canada as a result of Covid-19.
In Vancouver, where the cost of living already had many people living on the edge, the covid-19 shut downs meant people who were just getting by suddenly needed help from food banks. People already relying on free community meals saw those programs abruptly shut down in order to figure out how to operate safely in this new, scary, situation.
The Maundy Cafe was one of the meal programs that found it necessary to shut down temporarily. The decision was heart-wrenching for staff involved; they knew how much some guests were relying on the daily meals and social interaction.
Staff starting brainstorming ways to keep helping people facing food insecurity. Food hampers seemed to be the best solution. Andrew Stephens-Rennie and Alberto Jaramillo applied for and received a grant from Canadian Food Centres intended to help assist folks whose access to food was affected by Covid-19.
Because the Cafe doesn’t have contact information for most of its regular guests – many are street involved – staff worked with Fr. Matthew Johnson at St. James church, the Rev. Vivian Seegers at Urban Aboriginal Ministries, and contacts at Gordon Neighbourhood House to identify people in the area who could benefit from a food hamper.
It was quickly apparent that there is great need for food support in the wider community and Maundy Cafe is uniquely placed to help. A list of about 230 people facing food insecurity was complied.
For Alberto Jaramillo, the Cathedral’s Directory of Hospitality who oversees the day to day running of the Maundy Cafe, the fun part began: making a shopping list.
A couple of things were clear very quickly: first, this would require very large quantities of groceries. Second, Alberto couldn’t just walk into a grocery store and buy that amount of the items needed, especially with supermarkets placing limits on certain high-demand items. Help was needed.
Alberto and Andrew realized they had a contact at the London Drugs on Granville and Georgia who might be willing and able to help out.
With a tentative shopping list in hand they approached Ana Costa, the long-time manager at that London Drugs location. Costa, a community minded whirlwind, capable of moving mountains, lives and works in the neighbourhood and embraces opportunities to make things better for her neighbours.
With a bit of help from Costa the shopping list was refined and suitable substitutes found for out of stock items. When the list was ready Costa’s instructions were “leave it with me.” She then set about working with suppliers to get everything on the shopping list – some might say, moving mountains. A couple weeks later Alberto found himself helping unload skids of groceries off a London Drugs delivery truck parked in front of the Cathedral. The parish hall soon became something resembling a grocery warehouse.
The first round of 95 hampers were delivered in early June. Those hampers served more than 200 people facing food insecurity. The Maundy Cafe took delivery of a second order of groceries in mid July and will be packing and delivering another 95 hampers by the end of the month.
The Maundy Cafe re-opened in early May with new safety protocols. Take away lunches are prepared and served on Mondays and Wednesdays from 11:30am to 12:30pm outside the lower level entrance. If you want to know more about how you can help the Maundy Cafe at this time, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
(Photo: Jennifer Ewing)