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Good Food Boxes keep doing good work for Calgarians during COVID-19

Not only are they navigating COVID-19 pandemic health protocols, but a local group providing affordable food to Calgary families struggling with food insecurity is seeing a substantial increase in need.

The Community Kitchen has been running their Good Food Box program for years as a way to provide fresh produce to Calgarians in need.

The program offers a variety of size options depending on individual needs.

Sundae Nordin, the CEO of Calgary’s Community Kitchen, said the program has recently expanded beyond its typical client base. 

“We’re really trying to target those people that are self-isolated or that don’t feel comfortable, or their health is compromised. So, you know, just bringing awareness that they can order online,” says Nordin. 

Nordin said they’ve seen substantial growth in demand since the pandemic began.

“We’re looking at probably about 12 per cent growth or more over the 18 months,” Nordin said.

The program usually fills about 700 boxes a week, but recently as many as 1,300 boxes have gone to pick-up depots throughout Calgary.

Nordin said she’s looking into expanding the size of their operations. 

“We do have the option to grow in our existing warehouse. We’re just waiting to see if this trend is continuing to increase or it’s just a pandemic thing,” Nordin said. 

Pandemic brings additional obstacles

The presence of COVID has added challenges to the Good Food Box, beyond the increased demand. 

Having a consistent supply of produce due to border closures has been a concern for Nordin. She’s working with distributors to ensure the boxes always have staples, like potatoes and carrots. 

“Produce is always a tricky thing. We’re just really keeping an eye on it and really keeping that conversation between all of our distributors going,” Nordin said. 

The pandemic has also made the volunteering aspect of the program more difficult.

In any given year, the Good Food Box needs roughly 2,600 volunteers for its programs. Now, social distancing limits mean only 20 volunteers can be accommodated at a time. Typically, the facility operates with nearly 40 people at a time. 

“The other challenge is that a lot of corporate companies can’t come in because their companies are saying no, ‘we can’t volunteer at this time’. We’ve had a lot of cancellations so then we’ve had to try and find other volunteers,” Nordin said. 

Jaya Dharan has been volunteering with Community Kitchen regularly for the past nine years.

“When I started volunteering, I realized how meaningful it was and how it left me with this feel good sensation,” says Dharan. 

Many Calgarians struggle to afford quality, healthy food. The Community Kitchen has a variety of programs designed to help relieve food insecurity. CHLOE MACEACHERN / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

She said many Calgarians have been able to volunteer for the Good Food Box program. 

“I think most people want to help, they just don’t know where to go. I would say that just making people aware that there are opportunities for us to go out and help,” Dharan said.

Calgarians rise to the occasion

Nordin said safety for volunteers and staff is critical. Everyone has done their part to follow AHS guidelines. 

“We’re following that very closely and have had huge success that way. I just feel people rallying around and realizing we gotta serve and help in this time,” says Nordin.

Dharan said that she often encourages families to volunteer so that they don’t have to be spaced as far apart within the warehouse. 

Despite the new obstacles brought on by the pandemic, Nordin said Calgarians have continued to step up in big ways.

“I just feel very very fortunate and I feel blessed that we can help the people. We can’t lose sight that we’re helping people eat and feed their families, and food insecurity has increased a huge amount in our city. So it’s a privilege that we can help,” Nordin said.