Food Banks in Windsor-Essex were the first in the community to raise the alarm about the challenges that the social services sector were experiencing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The possibility of running out of food and having enough volunteers to continue to operate were large obstacles to overcome.
But a Coalition of partners came together to solve the problem of how to bring together a somewhat fragemented food bank system and centralize support to the people who need it most. To address the immediate need for emergency food assistance in Windsor-Essex, United Way/Centraide Windsor-Essex County, in partnership with Green Shield Canada, established the Windsor-Essex Food Helpline (WEFH) to help vulnerable people in the community access emergency food support. The WEFH is a temporary hotline set up to provide safe and responsive support to people who need food assistance, including low-income families, and seniors or people with disabilities who are self-isolating or require access to prepared meals and other supports.
The Helpline is being supported in-kind by Green Shield Canada. It is hosting the helpline and providing Call Centre staff to manage and respond to incoming calls. In its first week the helpline processed over 700 calls and made referrals to food banks, food and prepared meal delivery, mailing out grocery gift cards, and warm hand-offs to other community services.
Green Shield Canada Call Centre employees answer incoming Food Helpline calls from home.
"Green Shield Canada is pleased to partner with the Windsor-Essex COVID Care Coalition to establish the Windsor Essex Food Helpline. We feel that we have an important role to play in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic," says Charles Rosen, Vice President and Managing Director, HBM+, Green Shield Canada.
"This joint initiative with the Coalition and other supporting agencies will help vulnerable people in our community locate emergency food services and other social supports. We hope our leadership and passion to help people stay safe and healthy at this time of crisis makes a meaningful and positive difference."
United Way local staff have also been redeployed to coordinate the response and bring the partners together and ensure funds and support can flow to food banks and food bank users. The United Way team also worked with the local health unit to create and deliver a COVID-19 volunteer training module so that agencies can continue to recruit and retain volunteers to do their vital work during this difficult time.
The community has also responded. The COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund online campaign generated over $30 thousand dollars in its first week, and other corporate partners like FCA Canada, Libro Credit Union, the Solcz Family Foundation, and the O'Neil Foundation have come forward with generous corporate gifts totalling well over half a million dollars.
Now more than ever, it's important for us all to work together so that our collective impact is as strong as possible. United Way/Centraide Windsor-Essex County is grateful for partners like Green Shield Canada whose leadership and commitment to the community are helping vulnerable people get the help they need right now.