Busy Bees – The Kitchen Bees program making a difference in the Guelph area

by Alex Walmsley

When the order came from the province to close all public gathering spaces in March, the Church of the Apostles (Guelph) faced a dilemma. How could it continue to serve the community with its doors closed? The church was starting a series of community potluck dinners when the shut down began. 

The Reverend Naomi Miller and Living Better on Less Chair John Dennis had an idea: why not start an outreach program to support the growing need for food in Guelph? This resulted in the Kitchen Bees.

According to Reverend Miller, “The real catalyst for the Kitchen Bees was the question “If not the community dinners, then what? We still had a commercial grade kitchen, organization and planning experience, willing volunteers and a neighbourhood and city we are called to love that was hungry”. 

The Zonneveld Family—Mark, Julia, Liam, Sydney and Carla—Kitchen Bees hard at work at the Church of the Apostles (Guelph)

With many people experiencing job insecurity and many front-line support programs shut down due to infection risk, there was a mismatch in the supply and demand for meals for the community’s most vulnerable. With the help of a dedicated committee of volunteers, the Kitchen Bees program was launched in April. Initial funding from the Guelph COVID-19 Community Response Fund administered by the Guelph Community Foundation and the United Way of Guelph-Wellington-Dufferin kickstarted the program.

Coordinators John Dennis, Paul Mayhew, and Laurie Douglas completed their Food Handler’s Safety Certification and put together an extensive COVID-19 and Food Safety Plan to manage the kitchen safely. With funding from 2nd Chance Employment Counselling, the program was able to hire Facilitator Alex Walmsley to recruit and schedule volunteers, organize the kitchen, and implement the safety plan. 

The program operates by having volunteers, who have been self-isolating together, come to the church on weekday mornings to cook. They are pre-screened and only interact through social distancing with the Facilitator. Recipes are agreed to ahead of time and the volunteers arrive to a sanitized and fully stocked kitchen. They then spend three to four hours preparing meals such as pasta, soup, stew, sandwiches, and baked goods. Thankfully, they get to leave the clean up to the Facilitator!

Ingredients are mostly donated and other items are purchased as need. Donations come from a number of sources including Cobs Bread Bakery, Maple Ridge Farms, and The Seed’s Good Food Warehouse. The Seed is a food rescue organization in Guelph and receives donations from many local businesses and Second Harvest. Food is purchased using donations from the Sprott Foundation, the Diocese of Niagara Pandemic Response Fund, and parishioners.

John Dennis related that, “The majority of the food we work with comes from The Seed. We are so happy to work with rescued food that might otherwise be thrown out. The Kitchen Bees love the weekly challenge of getting new ingredients and trying to figure out recipes that are appealing and nutritious.”

Food is distributed through three emergency food providers: the Guelph Community Support Coalition, The Bench, and Lakeside Hope House. Food is packaged and delivered either fresh on the day it was produced, sandwiches for the Bench, or labelled carefully and frozen. In the first 3 months of the program over 3,600 individual servings have been prepared by volunteers. 

Reverend Miller, who makes an awesome chick pea soup, said “The Church Mission plan states that we are called to life, and compelled to love. And what better way to celebrate life, and to make love seen, heard, touched, smelled, and tasted than with a shared meal?”