Over the course of the first four weeks of social distancing protocols, Kingston has experienced significant strains on services and resources that provide support to marginalized families and individuals. The need for food banks as a main source of sustenance has skyrocketed, while donations have dropped. However, Kingstonians are rising to meet this need in unprecedented ways, including local charity Lionhearts Inc.
Since March 18, volunteers with Lionhearts Inc., including chef Will Arnaud of Otter Creek Farms Food Truck, have been serving hot take-home meals in McBurney Park every evening from 6-7 p.m., at no charge. And they serve more than a take-out box with a tasty meal, with daily offerings including snacks, fruit, pastries and fresh bread, hot chocolate, warm clothing, personal toiletries, fresh socks, and towels. They call this initiative the COVID-19 Street Project.
Equally important, say Lionhearts organizers, is offering a listening ear that can help their clients access other support services to help them navigate the current pandemic, and extending kindness and compassion. “Some of the clients said this had been their only meal for the day and for some it was the only smile they had seen,” said Travis Blackmore, Executive Director of Lionhearts Inc.
It became clear that operating solely out of the McBurney Park location was not going to be adequate to fill the growing need for the food and resources the team was supplying. On April 6, a second team of Lionhearts volunteers began distributing supplies from 5-6 p.m. in front of the Kingston Community Health Centres (KCHC) building at 263 Weller Avenue. In a press release, Lionhearts Inc. recognized KCHC and the South East Local Health Integration Network for their partnership in this initiative, as they have provided access to their full kitchen, storage, space for staging all of the meals, and assisted with communications to their own clients and neighbours.
“The need for this diversification of our efforts was identified by the City, KFL&A Public Health, and KCHC, and we’re pleased to be able to fill this need,” added Blackmore.
In their press release, the Lionhearts team notes that they have been working diligently and in close consultation with health authorities to ensure the food is distributed safely and social distancing is observed. They stress the continued importance of sending a representative to pick up food rather than a group to ensure everyone’s continued safety.
Volunteer and donor partnerships have been instrumental in the realization of this major community initiative. Lionhearts Inc. notes that they are not presently recruiting new volunteers, in order to best protect clients and current volunteers, and are grateful that they do have enough volunteers to operate these two programs effectively and safely.
Although the group has enough in-person volunteers for their operations, they are still reliant on the community’s support. Fundraising is still ongoing to support both the McBurney Park and the Rideau Heights service locations. Hundreds of meals are being served nightly, and there is no indication that the need will diminish in the near future. On Friday, the organization served 518 meals, said Blackmore.
Those wishing to support these efforts are encouraged to make a financial donation online. Please note that food donations cannot be accepted for safety reasons.
“We look forward to making new friends and reconnecting with existing ones at Weller Avenue and in McBurney Park,” said Shawn Seargeant, Lionhearts’ General Manager.