Food insecurity is one of the biggest challenges facing communities around the world, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has shut down food banks and church basements that charities in Canada have come to rely on.
GlobalMedic, a renowned global aid agency, specializes in finding sustainable solutions to acute problems. Now its services are needed closer to home and GlobalMedic’s founder is enlisting the help of his alma mater, Humber College.
Rahul Singh graduated from the Humber College Paramedic program in 1993 and founded GlobalMedic in 1998. The goal of the agency is to get the right aid to the right people at the right time. Professional emergency workers have worked alongside other professionals and volunteers on 219 operations in 73 countries, delivering lifesaving aid to 3.4 million people.
In a keynote speech at a community and industry forum at Humber in early March, Singh gave the crowd some advice.
"Every single day in our office we're willing to tear down what we do and build it back up. I urge you - challenge the system. It will not work if you don't challenge it,” he said.
GlobalMedic challenged the system by transforming into its own supply chain. First, GlobalMedic donated big tents normally used to set up field hospitals or clinics in disaster zones. Several hospitals, food banks, and clinics have been provided tent infrastructure in order to keep serving the public in a safe environment.
Then Singh and GlobalMedic targeted food distribution with support from sponsors – and Humber College.
On Friday, Singh said the organization had processed 330,000 pounds of food and distributed 60,000 pounds to people in need.
“Some of it is already in bellies,” said Singh
He reached out to the college which partnered with GlobalMedic which is now using of the cafeteria at its 110 Carrier Drive location near North campus.
“It’s really a coming together”
A team of volunteers- including many Humber College students – are processing lentils, chickpeas, green beans, and other pulses. The food is divided into thousands of one-pound bags, ready for distribution through food banks.
North York Harvest executive director Ryan Noble says there is more need than ever for good, healthy food.
March 13 was a “dark day,” he said.
That’s when the food bank – and others across the city -closed its doors to guests.
“We never expected that the entire network would be wiped out in an afternoon,” said Ryan Noble.
“We had food, we had trucks, we had staff, but we had nowhere to send that food.”
North York Harvest received one of the emergency tents provided by GlobalMedic.
The food processing and distribution plan will send supplies straight to the food bank. GlobalMedic interns will be managing the food processing operation.
“I’m a Humber grad and 100 per cent of my staff are too. They came from the international development post-grad program. It’s really a coming together.
GlobalMedic has partnerships across the globe but collaboration with Humber College continues to be a priority for Singh. He has seen first-hand what Humber grads can do.
“Humber faculty, staff, alumni and students have been rising to the occasion throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. We are pleased to work with GlobalMedic, an alumni-run organization, to respond to the needs of our community,” said Gina Antonacci, associate vice-president, Academic. “Rahul Singh runs GlobalMedic with compassion and with an eye to innovation. We are proud to count him among our alumni.”
GlobalMedic has also provided personal hygiene kits, cleaning supplies, and financial aid to local families. Singh has been a paramedic for decades and understands the needs of his colleagues, so GlobalMedic also invested in local distilleries which have shifted to produce hand sanitizer. The supplies will be distributed to first responders.
Crisis and resilience
North York Harvest is located in “one of the more historically affluent boroughs in the city,” said Ryan Noble. The suburbs have changed in the last decade.
Noble describes a migration of poverty across the GTA to places like North York and Etobicoke, due in part to high housing costs. Poverty isn’t just an inner-city issue.
“We have huge growth in areas that are ill equipped to handle them,” said Noble.
Most suburban agencies are volunteer-driven and don’t have a dedicated space. They may rely on access to community spaces like schools, churches, and community centres that closed in March.
North York Harvest has been able to transition from its regular location to the ice surface of a nearby arena, thanks to the help of GlobalMedic which “stepped up almost immediately.”
“Rahul called me very quickly and said ‘here’s what I have to offer you’,” said Noble.
“Making the physical space, having quality food – that was a priority.”
The tent and additional support allowed the food bank to continue operations and the individually packaged pulse products will end up in the bellies of guests at the food bank.
For North York Harvest, COVID-19 brought crisis, which Noble is quick to note is not unfamiliar.
“I hope people take away from this how much more long term-term work needs to happen. We can’t replace the social safety net.”
While donations of food and funds are always welcome, Noble says if people want to help, they can also advocate for long-term change and solutions that will sustain charities after the crisis is over.