Non-profit organizations versus the Covid pandemic

November 2020

Before the word “Covid” became a household name, non-profit organizations always struggled to meet their clients needs. Covid only made it harder. Read on to see how five organizations defied the odds and came out even stronger in the end.

Regional Food Distribution Association

Since Volker Kromm began working with the Regional Food Distribution Association in 2009, he’s seen a steady increase in the need to distribute food to a growing number of communities in Northwestern Ontario. Eleven years ago, the group serviced 26 organizations and purchased $26,000 in food annually. As of 2020, the increase has grown significantly to $3,500,000, serving nearly 50 organizations. Volker predicts that the need may reach as high as $5,500,000 by the end of this year due to the Covid pandemic.

“When the CERB funding was rolled out during the pandemic,” Kromm states, “it noticeably mitigated some of the pressure for the need of some food bank services, when combined with other local food service initiatives. We’re seeing a slow return to much higher levels, and the return to modified food banking. The guaranteed income was a blessing. Without it, complicated by the increased pressure of individuals transitioning to a new-normal life, and inclusive of the pending holiday season, we now have to work overtime to keep up with the demand.”

The RFDA is part of a national network that is building relationships with farmers, and food processors, which is allowing the RFDA to procure large quantities of foodstuffs from as far as Edmonton and Southern Ontario. The challenge for the group is to transport, store, repackage, and re-purpose the products for shipment regionally, in a timely fashion – including responding to emergency food requests from remote northern communities, accessible only by air.

At times the RFDA receives substantial seasonal amounts of local produce such as pumpkins and squash from local farms like Gammondale’s, and surplus vegetables from Leamington greenhouses, which have to be refrigerated, or processed and frozen for subsequent re-distribution. Dedicated volunteers step up to chop and package, on a massive scale to fill freezers.

Due to this increase in seasonal surge demand, the group is in need of additional volunteers to help with food preparation, stocking, storing, and filling hampers. They’re also in need of bulk freezer storage space, and a never-ending quest for funding to cover the basic cost of ongoing operations.

If you would like to help the RFDA please go to their website at Donations of $20 or more will receive a tax receipt.

Dew Drop Inn

One day before Tuesday March 13th, the day it was declared Ontario was in a state of emergency, the Dew Drop Inn was no longer able to welcome their patrons into their dining room. The Inn quickly adapted and began offering take-home lunches from St. Andrew’s Church’s garage, a convenient place adjacent to the dining room.
The number of people served per month rose from 7,000 to 9,000. “More people in our community were struggling with food insecurity due to interruptions in employment and income,” Michael Quibell, Executive Director says, “And this past September we broke all existing records in our 39 years with 10,965 meals/lunches served.”

With the increased expense of providing take-home lunches and the rise in patrons, The Dew Drop Inn applied to the COVID Community Response Fund and later to the Community Emergency Support Fund and Second Harvest Food Rescue for assistance. The support from the community was, and still is, incredible. Volunteers who were at a higher risk were encouraged to stay away and a strong volunteer pool went above and beyond to make sure no one was turned away for lack of food.

Quibell believes it is the community that is making everything happen. “We’re blessed with an awesome team of staff and amazing volunteers who are driven by passion during this pandemic to make sure everyone is fed. We’re incredibly grateful to a community that believes in us and supports us.” He also notes that they’ve been meeting their challenges head on, with confidence and courage, qualities that will help them deal with the uncertainties still to come.

The Dew Drop Inn appreciates any donation, financial or food, whether one time or ongoing, big or small. They’re always looking for volunteers and sincerely appreciate everyone’s precious gift of time.

For more information on how you can lend a helping hand please contact Linda, their Volunteer Coordinator at 632-2885 or e-mail or call the office at 346-0809.

The Salvation Army

When Thunder Bay practically shut down in March, the Salvation Army hit the ground running. “We already had a pandemic plan ready and were able to implement it very early,” says Gary Ferguson, Executive Director. “And we had good communication with our clients and staff which helped to create a calm environment.”
Many of their clients, however, did not understand the gravity of the situation and that they needed to stay in place. Staff dedicated themselves to educating everyone on the risks and the safety protocols that they needed to follow. With programming suspended and only essential services offered, many clients mental well-being was affected and the staff spent extra time keeping connected.

When providing food to people in need became an even greater challenge, the Salvation Army partnered with the RFDA and their members to create a safe drive-thru food bank. Everyone on the receiving end was extremely grateful.

As far as fundraisers are concerned, it’s been a tad difficult. Some of their traditional events have had to be put on hold while others have taken the virtual path. The Santa Shuffle Fun Walk/Run will be a virtual run held for a week in December so that community programs such as the food bank and soup van can continue. Ferguson encourages everyone to come out and support this important cause. To register go to

One fundraiser the Salvation Army is happy to still be able to hold is the Christmas Kettle campaign. They’ll have kettles at local retail locations from Nov. 19 to Dec. 24 and are happy to have a new tip tap machine that allows donors to tap the machine to make a donation without any interaction with the volunteers. Since many of their senior volunteers have had to opt out of helping this year, the Army is in great need of volunteers to man the kettles. “We encourage students who are in need of volunteer hours to sign up,” Ferguson says, “And any businesses and groups that volunteer will be acknowledged with a sign at the kettles.” To volunteer call 345-6492.

All in all, the Salvation Army has had good support from various levels of government to help meet the additional Covid expenses, but it’s the excellent staff and generous donors who have supported them during this time that has made a world of difference. As Ferguson says, “We need their support to continue. Without it, our work couldn’t continue.”

Our Kids Count

Although there were some interruptions in providing services to their clients, Our Kids Count Executive Director, Kathryn Hughes, says all of the disruptions were met head on by their capable and dedicated staff.

With the kitchen closed, hot meals were delivered once a week and virtual meetings became the norm. It was important to maintain contact in whatever way it was possible, even if it meant through a computer screen. Visiting support for mothers and counselling continued via phone calls and zoom, and staff went the extra mile – literally – delivering vouchers to their doors.

After restrictions were lessened and the staff were brought back in July, programs were restarted, but on a smaller scale based on Health Unit discussions. “Our clients told us that they were very grateful for the meals that came once a week, but they really missed the interactions with our staff. Social isolation and staying at home took its toll.” With this in mind Our Kids Count used United Way funding to purchase web cameras for their desktops so they could pilot virtual programming. Now participants will be able to have painting supplies dropped off right at their doors and take part in family friendly painting classes, or join a book club, and expecting mothers can get sound advice and care tips from a prenatal Doula – all virtually!

“We’re definitely ready if a Covid Round 2 comes,” Hughes says. “We’ll be able to offer the same kind of support – but in a different way. Our staff is comfortable with the technology and extremely dedicated.”

This year’s Rib Fest was a good indication of how well the community rallied together to support the organization. “It was a challenge turning it into a drive-thru event, but it all came together,” Hughes says. Some fundraisers, such as the Angel Giving Tree, are taking on a different format. Instead of cancelling the Christmas party for their families due to Covid, OKC will be handing out Christmas dinner to the families at a drive-up event at the Victoria Inn or delivering dinners to those without transportation. This year, instead of hosting their traditional angel tree, where children receive gifts purchased by community members, OKC will be gifting each family with a board game, craft, or puzzle they can enjoy together at home. The goal is to receive monetary donations to provide these items to 150 families. They’ll be purchasing the gifts locally from Toy Sense, who are kindly donating a portion of the gifts to OKC.

“We still need help from the community,” Hughes admits. “People can join our regular donor program and give a set amount each month, or give a one-time donation to help us reach our goal for the gifts that will make Christmas a little bit brighter for others.”

The organization is also in need of volunteers to be Big Brothers or Big Sisters for kids who need mentoring. There are 27 children on the waiting list and visits can be done virtually or on the phone while the pandemic is still active. Anyone 18 years old and over can apply to be a mentor.

If you would like to help Our Kids Count, go to their website at or call 623-0292.   

Toys for Tots>

Paul Penna, Chairman of Toys for Tots, admits that there are going to be some challenges reaching their goal this year in supplying toys to over 4,000 children in the Thunder Bay area. With traffic at the Intercity Mall slowing, and fewer people walking by their Fireman themed display at the mall’s food court, he’s worried people will forget about the charity if they’re doing online shopping.

“We’re still going to be at the mall from November 27 to December 21,” Penna states, “Because we know how much of a tradition it is for many families to drop by and give their donations each year. Lots of people like to stop by before they start their Christmas shopping. And they feel great about helping out.” Thunder Bay firefighters will be there dressed smartly in their uniforms and smiles – albeit covered with masks – donating their time to encourage people to stop by. And, as usual, Tim Hortons will be there with their Smile Cookies donation to kick it all off.

Due to the pandemic, many of their sponsors, such as Sleeping Giant Brewery who held “Photos with Santa” for the past few years, will face more challenges in reaching their goals. This year, Boston Pizza’s Celebrity Servers Day will be changing things up to raise their goal of $5,000. Drop by either location on Wednesday, December 9th to check it out. You won’t be disappointed!

Like many charities, Toys for Tots is adding a virtual route to how they can take in donations. They now have a website where people can donate with a few clicks of the mouse. Go to their Facebook page: Toys for Tots – Thunder Bay Professional Fire Fighters and click on the link for their website to help today’

“We put a lot of time and thought into each present we buy for the kids. We make sure each is age and gender appropriate and of good quality.” Penna says with confidence. “Younger kids receive toys, and older children often get clothing. And everyone is so appreciative of it all.”

A Suggestion:

It’s probably fair to say that during this pandemic, many people have had time to reflect and the things that once seemed important, don’t seem important at all. Other things like family, friends, our health – both mental and physical – have taken precedence – along with our concern for our fellow man. So why not consider donating to a charity as part of your Christmas Wish List? Your support helps the community and it makes you feel great. A win-win on both sides.

Donna White is an accomplished author and Jubilee Medal winner for her volunteer work with World Vision. Visit her website at

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