toronto shelters

Toronto shelters forced to turn away volunteers for holiday meal programs

During the holiday season people often want to volunteer their time to serve a Christmas meal or help out at food drives, but this year Toronto organizations have changed traditional plans due to COVID-19.

In past years, several organizations have sought out volunteers for a host of programs, from putting together food hampers to preparing turkey dinners.

However, the lockdown measures in Toronto have put volunteer programs on hold and have organizations turning help away.

At the Good Shepherd Ministries, an organization that offers meals in the Regent Park area, people have been calling nearly every day to ask about volunteering, said Adrienne Urquhart, director of fundraising and public relations.

"It's starting to ramp up slightly because of the holidays," Urquhart told blogTO. "Traditionally it's a time when people want to give back to the community and make a difference."

The Good Shepherd put the volunteer program on hold in March, she said. For the safety of staff, residents at the shelter and the volunteers, they want to reduce the number of people at the facility.

"It definitely had an impact on our services," she said.

Last year they had around 10,000 volunteer visits, so without the extra help, it has been challenging to provide services such as meals. Before the pandemic, they were serving about 1,000 snacks and meals a day, and volunteers helped serve and cook.

"Now what we have had to do is redeploy staff to do some of those functions," she said.

They started a meals-to-go program, but have scaled back to about 700 meals and snacks a day.

"We are still Toronto's largest free meal program," she said.

There are still opportunities to bake cookies and casseroles for the shelter, and people can also donate pre-packaged food or toiletries.

The Good Shepherd will still offer meals on Christmas and Boxing Day but it will be take-out rather than the traditional sit-down meal with volunteers serving.

"It's not going to look the same but the intent is there and people will be fed," she said.

Offers of help at The Scott Mission have also come in, though not as many as in the past, said Alexander Ng, a spokesperson for Toronto charity.

Still, Ng added that many are being turned away — for volunteering requests, they are asking people to check back in the future when they can allow the full volunteering program to open again.

They are currently piloting a very small program but with only a few volunteers.

"If this is successful we will consider allowing more once the Toronto lockdown ends," said Ng.

Daily Bread Food Bank has also put volunteer programs on hold.

All this has come at a time when the need is greater than ever. Food bank use has "climbed significantly" since the start of the pandemic, increasing by 22 per cent in June to 55 per cent in August compared to the previous year, according to the Daily Bread Food Bank.

Perhaps the best way to help this year, if you can afford it, is to donate to your favourite program.

Lead photo by

Good Shepherd Ministries

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