United Way Supports Local Food Program in a Time of Crisis

WEB Size JudyPoulinSandwhichOffering Horiz.jpgReady in a crisis with what is needed. 

The start of a new job can be a bit of a trial-by-fire, but that’s an understatement for Philippe Lavoie. 

He became the food services manager of a United Way-supported organization in Nanaimo 48 hours before the COVID-19 pandemic forced a new reality on the world.  

“We had to scale up production almost immediately,” he said. 

Over the course of about 10 days, Lavoie saw a 50 per cent increase in demand for food and water from Nanaimo citizens. 

“We went from service in-house to service bagged,” he said, with the program moving from a free cafeteria-style setup to providing free packaged lunches and dinners outside their downtown premises to adhere to social distancing requirements. 

“As a team, we agreed that it was clear that things were going to be changing quickly and often, and we just had to get the right mindset: what was applicable today might change tomorrow, and on and on,” said Lavoie. 

One of the major changes the program had to deal with was becoming one of the few food services still open in town. Even water fountains were turned off for fear of cross-contamination, he said. 

So in addition to food, access to clean water became a concern. But United Way had an answer to that. 

“The United Way, in conjunction with the speed at which this organization kicked into gear, was there at the right time with the right product,” said Lavoie.  

A COVID relief grant from United Way Central & Northern Vancouver Island provided thousands of bottles of water ready to be handed out to the thirsty. 

“The United Way was there literally in the hours, in the beginning, and they came through with this pallet of water,” he said, noting that bottled water is the cleanest way to provide that water to those in need. 

Ultimately, Lavoie said that he and his team, with support from United Way and other organizations, successfully fed everyone who needed it, even as the number of those in need grew greatly. 

“And we are not just throwing food into a box. We are making sure it’s nutritious, it’s tasty, there is variety, there is proper nutritional content, and it’s imperative that we do it with a smile and provide dignity to our community.” 

Asked how you deal with shouldering the responsibility of feeding so many hungry people, he said, “We have a great team. We have great leadership, and at the end of the day, it’s good work, done by good people.  

“So when the need increases, the more you do, the more you help – I dunno, it’s a philosophy, really – and the more you help, the better it feels. So we were ready to go and go hard to make sure these people were taken care of.”  

That has stayed the philosophy as the program continues feeding the hungry citizens of Nanaimo. 

This program has the right people ready to work, and organizations like United Way Central & Northern Vancouver Island make sure they have what they need to keep helping people. 

United Way is there with the support your community needs and knows what local organizations can best fulfil them.

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