Sociology students build grassroots volunteer-run initiative to help those in need during COVID-19 pandemic

image of groceriesIn the earliest days of the COVID outbreak, a small collective of people working to support QT/BIPOC (queer and trans, Black and Indigenous People of Colour) communities put out a call through the Caremongering – Toronto Facebook page for other groups to come together and replicate the mutual aid model. Sociology PhD students Andrea Román Alfaro and Paul Pritchard answered the call. They cooked and delivered meals for four straight days and raised funds through their personal networks before joining forces with two other small collectives to become the People’s Pantry. What started out as cooking meals across a few kitchens, the People’s Pantry has expanded considerably over the last few weeks into a much larger community food program.

The People’s Pantry is a grassroots volunteer-run initiative dedicated to safely providing and delivering cooked meals and grocery packages to folks who have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Remaining true to its origins as a grassroots political project working within a mutual aid framework, the students worked to expand their community network. There are now over 150 volunteers working across the GTA in various capacities as cooks, bakers, supply shoppers, deliverers, logistic coordinators, outreach and fundraising. They have also collaborated with numerous volunteer organizations across the city and partnered with the Bike Brigade, Maggie’s Toronto, the East Toronto Food Coalition, and Toronto Cares.

The People’s Pantry has raised over 20,000 dollars, and have successfully supported over 600 households with cooked meals and/or grocery packages from various communities across the GTA, including low-income and working-class families, QT/BIPOC, folks with precarious immigration statuses, precariously-housed folks, those living with illness or disabilities, and the elderly.

In addition to Alfaro and Pritchard, over 40 sociology graduate students and alumni have made financial contributions to the People’s Pantry, alongside 10 faculty members. Current graduate students Angela Xu, Jenn Peruniak, and Yuki Tanaka have put their cooking and baking skills to work and produced a steady stream of delicious food. A number of undergraduate students from the Introduction to Sociology course at UTSC have also offered their money and volunteer services.

Other students have used the mutual aid model to give back to specific communities with which they conduct their research. Bahar Hashemi and Paul Pritchard have partnered with an Afghan women’s organization to buy and deliver groceries to individuals in the Persian community who are not able to leave their house or access support because of reasons related to age, health and immigration status.

Recognizing the severe impact that the COVID-19 crisis has had in their communities, these students have reached out to undergraduate and graduate students at UofT, international students and migrant workers, and other communities to provide support. They have done so out of a firm belief that mutual aid is crucial in these times in which neither the government nor UofT has stepped up to provide help to those who most need it.

People wishing to contribute time or money, should visit the People’s Pantry’s Facebook Page or GoFundMe campaign.

Photo credit: Paul Pritchard

Congratulations to PhD student Andrea Roman Alfaro, recipient of Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship

Congratulations to Phd student Andrea Roman Alfaro, who recently learned that she was awarded one of the 2019 Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships!

Vanier Canada Scholarships are among the most prestigious scholarships available to graduate students studying in Canadian institutions. Vanier scholars are chosen based on their academic excellence, research potential and leadership potential and demonstrated ability. The program seeks and recognizes scholars who “demonstrate leadership skills and a high standard of scholarly achievement in graduate studies in the social sciences and humanities, natural sciences and/or engineering and health.”

Andrea has just completed her second year of PhD studies in Sociology at the University of Toronto. Prior to this, she completed a BA in Sociology and Government at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York and an MA in Sociology, with an specialization in social policy and development at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú in Lima, Peru. Andrea has already conducted research in Peru on privatization of education, education policies and programs, citizenship education, and gender inequality in academia. This work has resulted in publications (including one book, two book chapters, and one journal article) and through it she served as the Executive Coordinator of Grupo Sofia, an organization that promotes gender equality in the social sciences academia in Peru.

Andrea received the award based on her track record and the promise of her proposed dissertation project, Navigating the Multiplicity of Violence: Women’s Experiences of Violence in Peru.  The faculty members supervising Andrea’s dissertation are: Jerry Flores, Phil Goodman, Judy Taylor and Randol Contreras. Andrea’s work breaks new ground by conducting research on Peru and Latinx populations and the different ways in which violence, incarceration and the criminal justice system produces and reinforces social inequalities.

The following abstract provides a summary of her dissertation plans.


Latin America is one of the most violent regions of the world, with a homicide rate 10 points higher than the global average. Most research on violence in Latin America has studied men’s participation in gangs, drug trafficking, guerrilla movements, and urban violence, obscuring women’s experiences with violence in their homes and broader communities. Research that has studied women’s experiences with violence has focused on gender violence, fostering a division between the study of violence in the street and the home. This division has created a limited understanding of violence, making crime and delinquency the focus of public outrage and government intervention, while overlooking how violence against women is related to these public issues. This study aims to show how violence on the street and in the home are connected by asking: how do women in marginalized urban neighbourhoods make sense of and cope with everyday forms of violence?

In marginalized neighbourhoods, different forms of violence—crime, delinquency, domestic and gender violence, police harassment, and poverty—affect family and community relationships. Because of their role as caretakers, women are overburdened with the task of developing strategies to protect themselves and their loved ones from harm. As a result, women’s experiences in dealing with violence inside and outside the home are essential for understanding how different forms of violence are connected. I will explore these connections by conducting ethnographic fieldwork and interviews with women and men for one year in a marginalized urban neighbourhood located in Callao, one of the most violent provinces of Peru. This study hopes to contribute to the discussion on how violence arises and is perpetuated and how to improve the situation of Latin Americans who live under the threat of violence.