neighbours for need

How restaurants in one Toronto neighbourhood have teamed together to help those in need

Local restaurants in Toronto were among the most impacted by the pandemic. But that didn’t stop local restaurants in Leslieville from joining forces to help out the most vulnerable in their community.

Neighbours for Need is a local food drive initiative providing meals to nursing homes, shelters and community centers in the Leslieville neighbourhood.

Rom Diaz of BSIDE Beauty and Ben Barkworth of JustB Salon started the food drive on May 8. Since then, they have surpassed their initial goal of raising $10,000 for the community and have donated over 2,300 meals.

After seeing photos on social media of caterers delivering meals to frontline workers, the pair wanted to give local businesses a chance to give back to their community while promoting their establishments for takeout.

The food drive was inspiring to many, with many volunteers and staff looking to help out.

“One of the most heartwarming parts of doing the food drive was when three of our volunteers thanked us for bringing them out of depression while they were in isolation,” Diaz told blogTO.

“We only thought we were helping those who can't afford a meal, but it turned out to inspire a lot more people than we thought.”

They donated food to the Heritage Nursing Home, Dixon Hall, Red Door Family Shelter and Woodgreen Community Services. Eight Leslieville restaurants played a role in making the food drive a huge success.

Among the partner restaurants were FAT Lamb Kouzina, Eadrey Foods, Completo, Hanoi 3 Seasons, the Burren Pub, YAYA, The Nose and Gordon's Pub Kitchen.

FAT Lamb Kouzina first started feeding frontline workers through Sustain the Line back in March.

They had recently been trying to open a second location in Leslieville when owner Vera Tzoulas says they connected with their local BIA and jumped on the chance to contribute to Neighbours for Need.

“It’s incredible to realize what we can accomplish when we stand together. We can move mountains. In order to effect change, entire communities must band together,” he said.

The restaurant was hit hard during the pandemic, with their landlord locking them out of their shop and removing their sign on the storefront window in May. They continue to offer delivery service to the neighbourhood.

“The need does not end with our goal.  We plan to connect with the shelters to continue to provide hot, homemade meals, made with love, to as many people as we can. Each and every week,” Tzoulas said.

Eadrey Hemmings, owner of Eadrey Foods, said after she joined the food drive she had customers asking how they too could lend a hand.

“This pandemic has shown that the Leslieville community can really pull together and help each other,” said Hemmings.

The pandemic hit Eadrey Foods hard as well. Their catering business from corporate clients is now almost completely gone.

Co-owners of Completo, Matias Balmaceda and Andrea Bawden helped contribute to the food drive as well.

Not only have they provided meals to the Neighbours for Need initiative shelters and homes, but they have also donated food for the entire ICU at Toronto General Hospital and donated money to the Black Legal Action Centre.

While they’ll be taking a short break from the Leslieville food drive to focus on their business, they are looking to help out in other ways.

According to Diaz, while BSIDE Beauty and JustB Salon are keen on continuing to operate their food drive in the same capacity as they were under the lockdown, they understand their partner restaurants have to focus on their reopenings.

However, the donation site will continue to remain open and funds will be donated directly to their beneficiaries when restaurants are unable to prepare and deliver meals.

“We encourage everyone to shop local and support independent businesses whenever possible. The community of small businesses is what makes neighbours unique and vibrant.”

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