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Opinion: Food bank staff and volunteers need to be able to break through the hoards and get their vaccines now

From the desk of Rachael Wilson, Ottawa Food Bank, CEO

We were called “essential”. 

Our front-line staff and our dedicated volunteers had never before received that title through their work at a food bank. But when the pandemic hit, just how essential they are has never been clearer.

Day in and day out food bank employees and volunteers are putting themselves at risk to ensure the most vulnerable in our city get the nourishment they need.

We were disheartened when “front line food bank employees and volunteers” did not appear in the vaccine rollout right away. So, we waited. Our silver lining came during the phase two rollout when those words did finally appear as part of the plan. And when we heard high risk communities would be prioritized, it felt like a light at the end of this long dark tunnel.

However, now the vaccine system has opened up to people 40 and older, which is great in theory. But this has created online chaos, a confusing registration system, and a backlog of multiple waiting lists. Through it all, there is no way to sort out the essential workers at food banks to give them priority and allow them to return to work feeling a little safer. A little less at risk.

This is a problem in our vaccination system. Food bankers across the city continue to put themselves in harm’s way doing the work they love; doing work that they have been told by all levels of government is “essential”.

These people need to be pushed to the front of the line. We have seen food banks close, and we will continue to see them close if their staff and volunteers are not given priority.

Let me be clear, I am not asking for this fix in the system for myself. I am the Chief Executive Officer of the Ottawa Food Bank – but I am not one of the front-line heroes providing food directly to individuals in our community every single day.

I am asking for this fix for the people at food programs and community food banks across the city who are there to help their neighbours for whom they so strongly care. I am asking for this for our operations workers who pick up donations from grocery stores and who deliver food directly to food bank programs in every community across the city. I am asking for this fix for our staff who deliver food directly to the homes of people who are having to isolate. 

These staff and volunteers are truly essential workers. They deserve to be treated as such.

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