The Kamloops COVID Meal Train was born as a solution to address food insecurity and alleviate the pressure on resources brought by the COVID 19 pandemic. It was established at the end of March, the onset of the pandemic as a volunteer-led initiative and a unique community/grassroots mobile food dissemination program. During this time, meal service agencies in Kamloops ceased operations as a result of shortages in capacity and the crucial need for volunteers to isolate at the peak of the pandemic that plagued the world. This presented a tremendous challenge as those who were most vulnerable were inhibited from accessing a fundamental human right, nutritious meals, and a place to seek unconditional support. 

The Co-coordinator of the program and previous board member of the Kamloops Food Policy Council, Glenn Hilke saw this as an opportunity to not only provide breakfast at a time when there were no meal programs available but to also expand to provide lunch to the vulnerable population. Based on his ties to the community and his work with the non-profit – Lived Experience Community, he defined the vulnerable population including not only those experiencing homelessness and those with lived experiences dwelling in alleys but those living in motels due to the inability to access housing as a result of the heavy costs & restrictions in the housing market. Seniors are also considered a part of the vulnerable population and the Kamloops COVID Meal Train has provided, with the help of volunteers and businesses, well over 30,000 meals to combat food insecurity in our community. 

Cynthia Travers, manager at the Kamloops COVID Meal Train and recently elected board member at the Kamloops Food Policy Council brought to the limelight obstacles and challenges faced by the Kamloops COVID Meal Train. As an organization and initiative created based on a model heavily dependent on donations and volunteers, the inconsistent donations and volunteers, the lack thereof to maintain 2 meals, 7 days a week schedule is even more arduous. The Salvation Army and Mustard Seed assists however, as a community we are responsible for bridging the gaps where there is lack. The COVID meal train does this by providing breakfast, lunch (& prospectively dinner) to meet this dire need in our community. 

How Can You Help?

  • The Kamloops COVID Meal Train is organizing a Barbecue and Car wash as a fundraiser 

When: Saturday, September 26, 2020 

Time: 11 AM to 3 PM 

Where: 405a Tranquille Road, Kamloops BC

The program’s success comes from the endless support and love of the community and the willingness of people and fast-food restaurants to donate time, funds, food, and skills to help those in need. The cost of each meal is estimated to be 75 cents and with more than 30,000 meals offered to the vulnerable population, it costs well over $20,000 to keep the program running. The Kamloops COVID Meal Train recognizes its passionate and highly knowledgeable  8-team drivers, who constantly absorb costs of delivering meals and community volunteers that spend well over 100s and 1000s of dollars out of pocket as a means of support. 

Moving Forward 

To make the program an initiative one that is self-sustaining, the Kamloops COVID Meal Train is involved in a monthly roundtable discussion with representatives from agencies in Canada. Grants and fundings are currently in the works. Glenn Hilke appreciates the current support of organizations, restaurants, and fast-food chains like Tim Hortons, Smorgasbord Deli, and the Kamloops Alliance Church for providing meals and a commercial kitchen. Other fast-food chains and local restaurants are also encouraged to donate a day’s worth of food per month to keep the train moving.

When the FarmFolk CityFolk mobile seed cleaner recently rolled through town, a couple of us from the KFPC were lucky enough to take part in their seed cleaning session at SSOL Gardens. The mobile seed cleaner is currently being toured around the province to promote commercial seed production and support farmers who are already producing seed for sale. This well-equipped trailer can be a game-changer for farmers thinking about growing for seed as the equipment it brings can produce commercial-grade seed in a fraction of the time it would take to clean it manually.

Seed sovereignty is an integral part of food sovereignty. In order to have a resilient local or regional food system, we need to be producing our own seed so that we are less reliant on large commercial seed companies and able to develop plant varieties adapted to changing local and regional climates.

Prepping beans for cleaning

Seed cleaning can be monotonous and labour-intensive work, but it can also be very relaxing and meditative. When you see that bucket of clean seeds – the finished product of your labor, it’s also immensely satisfying. And sharing the work with a friendly crew of helpers makes for a fun day on the farm!

The seed cleaning unit itself is a trailer that houses several interesting gadgets used in the seed-cleaning process including an air-separator, which uses suction to pull the lighter chaff away from the seeds. David Catzel, who built most of the equipment in the trailer, was on hand for our session at SSOL and was able to finely-tune the airflow for each type of seed, producing a very clean finished product.

David and Daniela screening onions

There is quite a bit of manual preparation to be done before the plant material is ready to go through the separator. This is where the teamwork comes in. The more plant material that can be removed from the seed beforehand, the more effective the final cleaning will be. The mobile seed trailer is equipped with a sizeable collection of hand screens, which make the process easier.

On the day we were there, we helped clean two varieties of beans, six of carrots, ten lettuce varieties, and two onions. Daniela from SSOL Gardens figured the session saved her a week to 10 days of work and was way more fun than doing it alone!

David also facilitated a seed saving workshop for us while he was in town, which, unfortunately, we had to restrict to seven people because of social distancing restrictions. For those of us who got to attend, it was very informative and inspiring. One important takeaway was that although seed saving can be very scientific and particular with tons to learn about plant varieties, cross-pollination, and isolation distances, it can also be very simple. Many of our common vegetables, such as tomatoes, lettuce, beans, and peas are mostly self-pollinating and can easily be saved from one year to the next. And sometimes unintended cross-pollination can result in something new and different!

Thanks to David Catzel and Steph Benoit for organizing and facilitating the event and to FarmFolk CityFolk for making it possible!