While the government is working to provide Canadians with the resources they need during the pandemic, there are individuals who are ineligible for some of the benefits. This week we spoke to Jenna Tabatznik, founder of Covid Care Collective, about how she is helping those who are unable to receive government support.
Describe your charity/non-profit in a few sentences
Covid Care Collective is an initiative that provides food and basic essentials to low/no-income households across the Greater Toronto Area. We focus on those who have fallen through the cracks of government aid programs (i.e., those ineligible for the Canadian Emergency Response Benefits). This includes, but is not limited to, refugee claimants, individuals with incomes lower than $5,000 in the past year, and those unemployed before the start of the outbreak. Unlike traditional food banks, Covid Care Collective allows a representative (or approved recipient) to tailor grocery orders to meet their household’s specific needs.
What problem does it aim to solve?
While food banks provide food-relief to many Canadians experiencing food insecurity, our initiative provides critical items that are often unavailable: specialty healthcare products (i.e., hygiene, medication, preventative gear, baby products etc.) and diet-specific items.
When did you start/join it?
The concept for Covid Care Collective (formerly Covid Food Drive) came about via a small act of kindness by the founder, Joshua Chisvin, whose payment for a single family’s grocery order inspired a city-wide grocery sponsorship programme. From there, the initiative was born.
At the time, I was living abroad but felt it important to return home to Toronto to be close to my family during the pandemic. While in my mandatory 14 day self-isolation, I was inspired by their instagram post describing a group of volunteers who were covering the costs of grocery orders for households in need. I was compelled to help my community so I reached out. Days later, the founders put me in charge to organize the initiative’s rapidly evolving development.
What made you want to get involved?
They say ‘ignorance is bliss’, but try ignoring these headlines: March 12th 2020: “More than 4.4 million Canadians say they feel food insecure” – that figure translates to one in eight Canadians. The very next day, the headline read, “Ontario to close all public schools” and I couldn’t help but think about the two million elementary and high school children who rely on school meals. The articles that would follow described thousands of Canadians who would be laid off work. I could no longer idly stand by, I had to do my part.
What was the situation like when you started?
When Covid Care Collective launched, government aid had not yet been announced and as a result, businesses were closing and layoffs were mounting. With rent and mortgage payments due, and family savings beginning to deplete, people were scared and really struggling. Food insecurity was becoming prevalent across the city.
The initiative was based around a model which enabled volunteers to send food to families in need using InstaCart for cashless, touchless deliveries. Word of mouth spread, volunteers were quick to get involved, and for days, the initiative was filling one hundred requests per day. Then, they opened the floodgates, and – as you might have guessed – the mighty river roared. Within moments of opening up the initiative to the public, thousands of requests poured in. The need was overwhelming and it became impossible to meet this new demand.
How has it changed since?
Since the pandemic struck the city, food banks were injected with $100 million dollars worth of government funding, and while CERB funding is helpful to many families, there remain thousands of families across the city who are not benefiting from this program.
Our initiative which once relied heavily on food delivery services like InstaCart was in need of a transformation, as the whole country flocked to use these services and wait times for food increased drastically. Now, grocery sponsorship is done through a comprehensive tech platform for sponsorship, pick-up, and delivery of all essential products – corresponding to the needs of each particular household. We enable our recipients to request exactly the items they need, and we connect them to a network of volunteers willing to pick up those items and deliver them to the recipient’s doorstep. We’ve become a fully subsidized ‘UberEats of basic needs’ for eligible recipients. Since this initiative was founded, we’ve provided our services to 2000 people and raised more than $35,000.
What more needs to be done?
Either the government needs to expand its eligibility requirements or we need to raise more funds to support those individuals and families who are being missed entirely from government aid. There are countless refugees living in our city who are struggling and don’t have access to the items they need. Sama for example, is a 28 year old undocumented refugee who arrived in Toronto a few months before the outbreak of Covid-19. She’s been struggling to find a job because she’s still waiting on her papers. She’s also in need of specific supplies like diapers and gluten-free foods, while trying as much as possible to maintain her Halal diet. We urgently need to raise money for people in our community like Sama who desperately require items that food banks don’t have.
How can our readers help?
There are two ways to get involved. If you’d like to volunteer with us to help us shop and deliver grocery items to those who cannot safely get to a grocery store themselves, you can apply here.
We’re entirely dependent on donations from the public through our GoFundMe campaign. If you like what we do, please donate – share – and help us help out our community.
Do you have any events coming up?
We hold multiple ‘events’ each day when our volunteers and recipients pair up on our mutual-aid platform and help one another out.
Where can we follow you?
Please follow our journey at @CovidCareCollective (IG) and Covid Care Collective (FB).
PAY IT FORWARD: What is an awesome local charity that you love?
Ample Labs is leveraging technology to help homeless people access the services they need. Based on the fact that 94% of homeless people have access to a mobile phone (over half of which are smartphones), they built a custom application which points people to nearby shelters, surplus food supplies and employment opportunities. We’ve teamed up with them to promote our services to users of their application.