Lori Nikkel, CEO, Second Harvest is Canada’s largest food rescue organization. She talks about business impact due to COVID19 and how it will shape the future for all of us.
How has COVID19 affected your business?
I’m CEO of Second Harvest, Canada’s largest food rescue charity, and everything changed in a day for us, including immediately implementing pandemic protocols to ensure the safety of our staff and the people we serve. The support we provide with our fleet of trucks changes daily as social service agencies pause their food support, while others start to provide food.
This has resulted in constant route changes for our fleet and staff and more strain on the services that remain open. Nothing has stayed the same from one day to the next. The amount of food that we are receiving is incredible but it’s also creating a challenge making sure we can get it right across the country. We had to quickly do cost containment as our fundraising was severely impacted. We had to postpone our signature event Toronto Taste which raises $1M in funding and our peer to peer fundraising ceased, which left us with a $2M gap in our budget.
However – and this is a huge “however” – we have seen an amazing outpouring of generosity. We’ve heard from individuals who are taking care of family members in quarantine who are donating to help people in their position, and major funders and corporations are stepping up to meet a national need. It’s been incredible.
How are your teams working and communicating during such times?
Almost all staff are working from home, with the exception of our amazing team of drivers and the operations and warehouse crew. We had just rolled out Microsoft teams organization-wide about two weeks before the pandemic went full-on. It’s been incredible how seamless the transition to working from home has been because of Teams.
Systems and processes have seen new changes. Do you feel the new way of working will change the way we worked in offices?
That’s a tough one for me because Second Harvest has always been able to fulfill our mission in or out of the office: we have drivers on the road seven days a week; we have an agency relations and training team that visits our social service agency partners across the GTA; our FoodRescue.ca team travels nationally meeting with potential food donors and partners, and we have staff in different parts of the country already.
Being compelled to make the switch to working from home and doing meetings over Microsoft Teams was just another pivot out of a number of them that we have incorporated into our daily business over the years. If anything, the speed of COVID-19 developments has made us communicate more with each other from our homes than when we shared office space.
How are you helping your local community during such times?
As a food rescue organization, our reason for being is to help our community by redistributing surplus food to people who need it and also to help our planet because we’re keeping that great food from going to landfill.
As COVID-19 has hit and social service agencies starting suspending their programs, and meal programs stopped, and schools and their breakfast programs closed, the need to keep food coming became huge. Many Canadians rely on community food programs to get them through the week so if those supports vanish, and their hours at work decrease or stop, that’s a disaster waiting to happen.
Our response has been to ramp up the expansion of FoodRescue.ca across Canada, so local food programs can connect to food donors quicker. We’ll be offering funding to local food programs across Canada, too. We’re leading a task force with representatives from government, and the private and non-profit sectors to get more momentum behind food rescue. We’re using FoodRescue.ca to strengthen food programs that aren’t supported by the traditional food charity network but do incredible work that is in danger of being left behind.
This is a once in a lifetime event for all of us, do share your reason for optimism?
I am optimistic because everyone is trying to do their part and collaborate for the greater good. Even when there is so much uncertainty and fear, many organizations are banding together to provide the food needed for Canadians. We’re determined that no Canadian will be left behind and that goal is a great way to focus energy and intention.