In 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.
Photo credit: Paul Pritchard