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When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Kate Hanley noticed an immediate need for some people in Toronto. 

“It was so apparent just by looking at the streets that there was a huge crisis going on with people without homes,” Hanley told CTV News Toronto. “They had been inadvertently locked out if their means of survival, whether it was a bathroom, a drink of water or they had trouble finding food.” 

It was that realization that prompted Hanley and a few of her friends to take action. 

“It was myself and a bunch of my oldest friends, life-long friends,” Hanley explains. “We are women, and entrepreneurs, and non-profit executives and artists, and we just couldn’t not do something.” 

Together, they created Project FoodChain – a grassroots initiative to get food and supplies to front-line organizations helping the city’s population experiencing homelessness. 

“What we do is we secure and deliver shelf-stable products and we bring them to drop-in centres across Toronto,” Hanley said. “We wanted to provide the kind of food that people can put in their backpacks and have some kind of sustenance while they’re searching for their next meal.” 

The products are brought to front-line organizations to help distribute the goods. Ve’ahavta has been one of the recipients, as they work to deliver meals, clothing and safe supplies around Toronto. 

“During the COVID pandemic the demand for our services has increased wildly,” says Cari Kozierok, Executive Director of Ve’ahavta. “Programs like project food chain provide us with the supplies we need to get out onto the streets into the hands of the people who need them most.” 

One of Project FoodChain’s biggest successes this summer has been dispensing nearly 100,000 bottles of water to drop-in centres in Toronto. 

“It’s been a really hot summer, and during COVID the city largely turned off water. So there wasn’t a lot available to folks experiencing homelessness,” said Diana McNally, training and engagement coordinator at the Toronto Drop-in Network.

“We were forced to seek private donations and charity, and that’s how we came across Project FoodChain. They’ve been an actual literal life saver during COVID.” 

Hanley and her team of volunteers had planned to wrap up operations in June, but say the need continues to be so strong that they are now strategizing for a potential second wave and the upcoming winter season. 

“What I’ve learned is that when a whole bunch of people come together, we can do so much more than we can do apart,” Hanley said. “We’re just a group of women, but we’ve been able to do so much more than we could ever do alone by bringing a community together.” 

Kozierok agrees, saying Ve’ahavta’s 1500 volunteers have demonstrated how to make a difference during a time of need. 

“When everybody in the community says ‘I care about this’ and ‘I want to contribute to helping and solving,’ we come up with solutions. Because that’s what humans do.”