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As I pull into the Evinrude Centre parking lot, I realize that although I haven’t even started volunteering yet, I already felt better for having shown up. Waiting out in the late March snow are Megan Murphy and Lois Tuffin, the organizers and promoters of this Covid19 food-relief drive. It’s 8:30 am and they’re already at it, handing out maps of routes to be covered by the crew of community volunteers who’ve come with their cars, trucks, and vans ready to help.
I don’t actually notice the line-up of volunteers waiting patiently in the snow to get their map. I walk straight up to Megan Murphy and Lois Tuffin to introduce myself. They’re warm and welcoming, starkly contrasting the weather around them. After learning where I grew up, Megan offers me the closest available collection route to that area. I accept, happy to be able to drive on roads I know well, while otherwise being preoccupied with scanning porches for donations.
After getting my map, I wait in my minivan for my assigned partner. It isn’t a long wait. I check my phone and Thomas Lau is already texting me, confirming he’s approaching the right vehicle. He hops into the passenger seat, and at 9 am we start our route, giving time to homes around Peterborough/Nogojiwanong to get their donations out.
We perform a quick brief, as he has PPE (personal protective equipment) and has come with the proper storage for cash donations. He’ll be the runner, collecting donations from the porches while I drive along very slowly, to taxi us along the route.
With that out of the way, we begin chatting easily, and I am immediately grateful Thomas is my volunteer partner. A veteran of other food drives, he’s able to fill me in on the most effective methods of collecting donations. He is also, I’m pleased to learn, a nursing student at Trent University and an ex-EMT. I’ve really lucked out on the draw.
As we wait in the Evinrude parking lot, Thomas begins donning his PPE; it is a full clean suit. I am a little taken aback, and feel more than a little underdressed. He is taking no risks with food destined to support others. All donations collected by us will have as little contamination as possible. We paint quite a picture; he in his clean suit, and I in my civvies. I won’t actually handle a single donation item through the entire morning to prevent transmission of germs, in order to keep these donations safe.
At 8:55 am we pull out, and by 10:05 am, with only a third of our assigned route complete, we are already on our way to the Kawartha Food Share warehouse off Ashburnham. Even that early, just an hour into the food drive, the food gathered at the collection bay is staggering. Other caravans and trucks are there as well, dropping off their first sweep of collections. A forklift is loading pallets into the warehouse proper as volunteers and Kawartha Food Share’s own General Manager, Ashlee Aitken, work the loading bay. They’re unloading all of the vehicles themselves to keep food uncontaminated, and sorting all donations being brought in by volunteers like Thomas and I.
On the second leg of our journey, we ran into another pair of community volunteers, having already completed their own route and are now busy collecting around their own neighbourhood. They apologize for interfering with our assigned circuit, which is quickly waved off by Thomas and I. We were just glad to know the donation spots we kept finding empty were, in fact, going to the right place. It was very heartening to see people, having already done their bit, putting in extra time and effort to ensure the success of the drive and the greatest possible relief for members of our community. As we unload for the last time at Kawartha Food Share, Thomas and I say our goodbyes. He’s off to double-check a couple of lanes from our early routes to collect any donations that may have been put out late. I am, again, struck by the commitment on display.
I stay behind to conduct an interview with Megan. She’s still out, completing her own route of food collections. Like the General Manager of K.F.S, she seems to not be one to leave all the work to volunteers. I return to my car, deciding to just call her later in the afternoon, when Ashlee Aitken runs over to inform me Megan is back. She’s amongst the collection sorting bins, comfortably talking with the volunteers as they continue their sorting. I wait and am again greeted kindly, and invited inside to the K.F.S office.
It’s Megan’s first time organizing a food drive, but you’d never have known. “I was disappointed by the hoarding I saw on the news, it wasn’t a fair representation of the community.” She confides in me. “Being vulnerable is scary enough when everything is fine, but it’s even scarier right now. It’s important we stay connected.”
I asked her how this all came about. “I’m not a medical professional,” Megan replies, “I’m not a scientist, or a politician; I can’t pass or inform policy, but I need to do something. I was hungry to help.” She continues with the occasional pause to acknowledge waves or questions directed at her. The drive is still in motion.
“The Kawartha Food Share lost a lot of volunteers with voluntary isolation. Many of them are retirees and the most at risk. They needed to protect themselves.”And Megan Murphy, as a community-minded spirit, saw a need and strived to fill it. She put the call out on social media for volunteers; a call carried further by Lois Tuffin, a veteran of community service, and of working with the K.F.S in particular.
“The turnout was amazing, the community really rallied. Somewhere around seventy-five drivers turned up; thousands and thousands of homes donated.” She continues, still balancing—really well, I might add—answering my questions and the inquiries of a half dozen volunteers and staff, “The Trent community was quite generous too, we’ve got great donations from student housing. It’s a great feeling, seeing what started as a small idea becoming so huge and having such an effect.”
With that, our interview concludes. She’s been informed there are some late donations and goes to make specific house calls should it be necessary. Before leaving though, she shares the perfect quote, off the record, which I beg her to allow me to share:
“When bad shit happens, good people rise up. I never cease being amazed by our community.”