Chefs Step Up to the Plate During the Pandemic

0

At a time when many individuals were laid off and restaurants were closing up temporarily, Dan Gauthier received a call from a friend at United Way’s Harvest Algoma Food Resource Centre. With nothing else happening and looking for something to do, Gauthier stepped into the large commercial kitchen in Harvest Algoma and took inventory. After realizing exactly what the potential was, Gauthier called in his coworkers and made a plan.

“At first it was an excuse to get out of the house. Then we saw the importance of a place like this and a concerning need in our community,” said Gauthier, with over 15 years in the restaurant industry. “Instead of wasting all this food, we use our skills to process the food in an innovative way – we have fun, make what we like, try different things – to show our LOCAL LOVE, cut food waste, and feed the hungry.”

Since mid-March, Dan Gauthier, Samantha Gauthier, and Will Hurley, with help of other volunteers when they are available, have made in excess of 1000 meals, hundreds of jars of pickles, and processed countless boxes of fresh produce. As food deliveries from Southern Ontario’s Second Harvest in Toronto ramped up during the pandemic, United Way’s Harvest Algoma Food Resource Centre has been running at full capacity to receive, process, and distribute as much food as possible, sometime in unconventional ways.

“At one point there was a bit of a miscommunication on social media about when and where we were distributing food in the community,” says Jessica Laidley, Food Resource Centre Manager. “We had cars lined up at the FRC for people looking for potatoes and any other surplus food we were giving away. This isn’t what we typically do at all, but we had so much surplus of certain items that it was hard to tell people no. We do our best to not let good food go to waste.”

After eight weeks of running full-tilt, Harvest Algoma hit a landmark milestone of pounds of food rescued. “When I saw that we had surpassed over 500,000lbs of food mid-May, I was floored. We opened our doors in July of 2018. Before the pandemic, we sat at around 145,000lbs of food. I couldn’t believe it. That number, based on what we were rescuing week over week, is something we should have hit in a few years. We couldn’t have done it without all of the core volunteers coming in day after day. We’re a lean operation with three full-time employees. I don’t know what we would have done without the help of the community to get this food moved and processed,” said Laidley.

Food rescue is a messy business, sometimes requiring the sorting of rotting food, heavy lifting, and moving product quickly. It doesn’t always smell like sunshine and roses in the FRC but staff and volunteers have done incredible work. “I’ve asked a lot from volunteers over the last eight weeks. It’s a wonder they haven’t all up and left!” laughed Laidley.

United Way’s Harvest Algoma Food Resource Centre is United Way Sault Ste. Marie and Algoma District’s response to food insecurity in our community. Harvest Algoma primarily services food banks, soup kitchens, and emergency meal providers with additional food inventory to serve their clients.