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Toronto restaurant owner delivering groceries to help those in need

Toronto restaurant-owner Carlos Oliveira is helping those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic but he doesn’t want you to consider him a hero.

“People have been coming out and giving me praise — listen, the praise is not for me,” Oliveira says, referring to an Instagram post that, over 24 hours, garnered more than 700 likes.

“The praise is for all of the people that participate in this. I’m just using my social media to get the word out.”

The post depicts Oliveira delivering groceries to 87-year-old Mrs. Celeste, who is creating food baskets for families that depend on donations for meals.

Mrs. Celeste belongs to St. Agnes’ Parish in Toronto, and used to take part in collecting food during Sunday mass, and delivering it in basketfuls to families in the community.

𝘛𝘩𝘪𝘴 87 𝘺𝘦𝘢𝘳𝘴 𝘺𝘰𝘶𝘯𝘨 𝘭𝘢𝘥𝘺 “𝘥𝘰𝘯𝘢” 𝘊𝘦𝘭𝘦𝘴𝘵𝘦 𝘪𝘴 𝘤𝘰𝘯𝘤𝘦𝘳𝘯𝘦𝘥 𝘧𝘰𝘳 𝘩𝘦𝘳 𝘤𝘰𝘮𝘮𝘶𝘯𝘪𝘵𝘺! 𝘞𝘪𝘵𝘩 𝘚𝘵 𝘈𝘨𝘯𝘦𝘴 𝘱𝘢𝘳𝘪𝘴𝘩 𝘣𝘦𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘤𝘭𝘰𝘴𝘦𝘥 𝘥𝘶𝘦 𝘵𝘰 𝘊𝘰𝘷𝘪𝘥-19, 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘮𝘢𝘯𝘺 𝘧𝘢𝘮𝘪𝘭𝘪𝘦𝘴 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘥𝘦𝘱𝘦𝘯𝘥 𝘰𝘯 𝘧𝘰𝘰𝘥 𝘥𝘰𝘯𝘢𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯𝘴 𝘢𝘳𝘦 𝘯𝘰𝘵 𝘳𝘦𝘤𝘦𝘪𝘷𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘮. “𝘋𝘰𝘯𝘢” 𝘊𝘦𝘭𝘦𝘴𝘵𝘦 𝘳𝘦𝘢𝘤𝘩𝘦𝘥 𝘰𝘶𝘵 𝘵𝘰 𝘶𝘴 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘸𝘦 𝘸𝘰𝘯’𝘵 𝘭𝘦𝘵 𝘩𝘦𝘳 𝘥𝘰𝘸𝘯! 𝘛𝘩𝘢𝘯𝘬 𝘺𝘰𝘶 @churrasquiera_andrade 𝘧𝘰𝘳 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘨𝘦𝘯𝘦𝘳𝘰𝘶𝘴 𝘤𝘰𝘯𝘵𝘳𝘪𝘣𝘶𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯! 🙏 . #weareallinthistogether❤️🙏🏻 #covid_19 #communityhelp #gooddeeds

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“She was worried because the church’s storage room, the pantry, was empty,” Oliveira says.

“[The church] didn’t have enough money to buy vouchers for these families, and she was completely worried, and she took it upon her own hands to start calling friends and family to bring in things for her.”

Oliveira was contacted by one of his team members at his restaurant, Mercado Negro. The team member is a tenant of Mrs. Celeste’s and is assisting her in gathering donations. When Oliveira went to meet Mrs. Celeste for the first time, she invited him into her home.

“And I’m telling her, ‘No dona Celeste, I can’t be next to you,’’ Oliveira says, having been in public and practicing social distancing, he knew the danger he could potentially pose to her health. “All she’s interested in is helping these families,” he says of Mrs. Celeste.

Oliveira has now taken on the initiative of distributing food to those in need. He is following in Mrs. Celeste’s example, acting as her more mobile counterpart, but is also taking on a wider scope when it comes to the families he’s collecting for.

While he is still meeting friends, family, and clients he knows from work to collect food donations and deliver them to Mrs. Celeste, who then goes on to distribute them through the church, he also hopes to collect items for the larger community.

“I was hoping that we could get a little bit more, because that would mean that I could go to other food banks,” Oliveira says. He says he has seen a shortage in food and supplies at food banks because of social distancing, and the directive citizens are under to do their grocery shop once a week.

“[People are] staying away from grocery stores, and I know that the food banks right now are in dire need of help,” Oliveira says. “And I would love to have leftovers to distribute amongst other food banks.”

On the patio at Mercado Negro, Oliveira has set up collection boxes and he hopes Torontonians will drop items off, as much as they are able to.

“They don’t have to bring a truckload, it doesn’t even have to be a bagful — it could be a simple bag of rice or a simple bag of pasta,” he says.

Items can be dropped off at any time during the day or night, without interaction; in other words, people will be able to maintain social distancing measures. Oliveira checks the donation boxes every day.

As a restauranteur, Oliveira has experienced the psychological and economic toll the pandemic has taken on small businesses and business owners.

With the government-mandated closure of non-essential businesses, many restaurants and stores are coming to rely exclusively on online and take-out sales, with other businesses shutting down completely.

“We’re in a position where we might lose everything,” Oliveira says. “But we still have some time,” he goes on, as opposed to families in the community who are currently worried about finding their next meal. The collection work he’s doing now is a means by which to find meaning in the moment, “to try to do something good,” Oliveira says.

He says he’s wary of asking people for donations outright, understanding that while some might have the resources to donate today, they might be in a different situation in a week or two from now.

“We’re all in tight situations right now, and it’s very difficult for us to ask for anything,” he says.

But he still has hope, when he looks at the community. The reason why Oliveira doesn’t want any praise for what he’s doing is because he acknowledges that he is one among the many Torontonians and Canadians who are working, such as those on the frontlines, to combat the spread of COVID-19.

“I am so honoured to be a Canadian right now,” he says. “We’re going to get out of this together.”

Lead photo by

Mercado Negro


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