27 November 2023 – Today the Thunder Bay + Area Food Strategy (TBAFS), in partnership with the City of Thunder Bay and nine non-profit organizations who make up Thunder Bay’s essential food access infrastructure, are celebrating the official ratification of the first Emergency Food Plan for Thunder Bay. “This is a huge accomplishment born of collaboration and a dedication to responding better during times of emergency that has been years in the making,” says Courtney Strutt, Emergency Food Plan Coordinator. “Without the expertise of all the organizations who have come to the planning table and the cooperation of the City of Thunder Bay, this achievement would not have been possible.” The idea for an Emergency Food Plan was born in late 2020, after research conducted by the Thunder Bay + Area Food Strategy about the local food access response during the COVID-19 pandemic. A key finding of this research was the need for better collaboration during emergencies to ensure that the food access needs of everyone in our community, especially vulnerable populations, are met in a dignified and equitable way. The findings of this research can be found in the EFP background report Learning from Emergency Food Response During COVID-19 in Thunder Bay, ON. In response to these findings, a group of key non-profit organizations with experience, expertise, physical infrastructure, human resources and day-to-day connections to food system actors came together to form the Primary Partners table. These organizations are the Dew Drop Inn, Lakehead Social Planning Council (211), Northwestern Ontario Women’s Centre, Red Cross, Regional Food Distribution Association, Roots Community Food Centre, Salvation Army, Thunder Bay District Health Unit, and the Thunder Bay Indigenous Friendship Centre. Guided by an Emergency Food Plan Coordinator through the TBAFS, representatives from each of these organizations helped to develop the first plan of its kind in Thunder Bay.
The purpose of the EFP is to address challenges related to food access and its associated impacts on health and wellbeing during emergency events in the City of Thunder Bay, ON (and Fort William First Nation and the six surrounding municipalities when partnership is requested). The EFP has been developed to act as a public strategy to compliment the City of Thunder Bay’s overall Emergency Plan. This plan offers the Municipality a coordinated network of civil society actors dedicated to dignified community food access who have committed to providing critical physical infrastructure and human resources to an emergency food response. Through identifying potential or likely hazards or risks to food access, the EFP is a starting point for prepared response to medium or high-risk situations to food access (such as a long-lasting power outage, multi-day highway closure, local to global events that cause public health and safety risks impacting people’s ability to leave their home or afford food, etc.). The concept of operations for the EFP includes a process for activating the primary partners in the face of an emerging emergency; a flexible response structure that allows for leadership and known elements of food response to be covered quickly (i.e. procurement, packaging, distribution); a process for deactivation and debriefing; and ongoing stewardship of the plan and its partners to ensure longevity, sustainability, and adaptability. As an interconnected, yet separate, piece of the City’s emergency planning, the EFP is unique in that it sits within the realm of civil society responsibility. The Primary Partners have taken on the responsibility of activating the plan in a time of emergency, however the long-term stewardship of the plan rests with the Food Access Coalition (FAC), a body of organizations or groups who support, provide, or advocate on behalf of food access in their mandates and are members of the wider TBAFS network (such as food banks and social service agencies). As a broader coalition, the FAC is an essential network of organizations that can be activated to implement key portions of the plan, such as distribution at a neighbourhood level or providing human resources to help package food. A key lesson in the work of the EFP is that the plan only works when key food system actors collaborate to determine an appropriate response and implement it together. Michael Quibell, the Executive Director of the Dew Drop Inn reflects that “a daily feeding program like the Dew Drop Inn relies heavily on the support of the community. During the onset of the pandemic, collaboration with other community partners was critical to the sustainability of our feeding program, just as it will be to address crises in the future.” While today marks a significant milestone in this important piece of municipal preparedness, it is also only the beginning. The EFP will continue to grow and change as it is used, discussed, added to, and as those actors around the table grow to include more essential voices and expertise.
- CBC Print: In case of an emergency, Thunder Bay now has a plan to ensure everyone has access to food
- The Walleye: Leading the Way – Thunder Bay + Area Food Strategy Ratifies Emergency Food Plan
- TBNewsWatch: Community emergency food response plan released