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'It takes a village:' Clarksburg caterer rallies businesses, residents for meal delivery

Residents and businesses have come together to form Village Meals, which provides Sunday dinners to families in Thornbury and Clarksburg
2020_04_30 COVID Village Meals_JG
Clarksburg resident and catering company owner, Jean Lewis Knight has been preparing and delivering meals to area seniors since the onset of COVID-19. Submitted photo.

In her pre-COVID life, Clarksburg resident Jean Lewis Knight ran a catering company where she would whip up delicious creations for parties and special events.

Now, with her business on hold for the foreseeable future due to COVID-19, she has harnessed her skills to help fill the bellies of the community’s most vulnerable.

“A lot of these people who may be in need are not people that would normally use a food bank. This situation is just so totally different than anything else we have ever had to deal with,” says Lewis Knight. “Some of our seniors, their families live a fair distance away and they can’t shop for them or drop meals off.”

Motivated to ensure the area seniors were getting enough food (and toilet paper) in the early weeks of the COVID-19 shutdown, Lewis Knight began cooking, packaging and delivering oven-ready meals to a number of Blue Mountain’s seniors who may be housebound, have difficulties getting to the store or are a high-risk candidate to contract COVID-19.

“We provide them not just with a single meal but with what we hope is almost a weekend’s worth of meals,” she says. “They get soup, a stew or pasta, fresh bread, two salads and a main course. We are hoping that they don’t have to go to the grocery store over the weekend.”

Initially, Lewis Knight funded the project on her own, which enabled her to serve 18 elderly residents. However, the local community quickly got wind of her efforts and stepped up with monetary donations that have allowed her to expand. Today she is feeding 40 local seniors every week.

“The community response has been unbelievable. Financially, we have the funds for the next eight weeks for the senior’s program,” she says. “So many people have stepped up and said, 'what do you need? What can I do?'”

She has had support from a number of groups and businesses in the community, including St. George’s Anligcan Church, which has allowed her to use their commercial kitchen and assisted co-ordinating donations and tax receipts; the local school and Beaver Valley Outreach (BVO), which have assisted her to identify the residents in need; Thornbury Foodland, which has helped her get access to the quantity of food needed; and, the Dam Pub, which donated produce. 

In an effort to limit risk, Lewis Knight is doing the majority of the cooking and preparations herself.

“I contacted the public health unit when we began this to make sure that I was doing things in the best way possible to limit risk. And, that included limiting the number of hands or people that are involved. I do all of the cooking by myself with some occasional help from my husband,” she says.

Now, with the seniors program in full swing, Lewis Knight has set her eyes on another community endeavour - providing Sunday dinner for local families in need.

“The second program I have started will feed 10 families a traditional Sunday dinner. So, that will be between 40 and 60 people,” she says. 

The idea came out of conversations with others in the community, like Susan Thomson, who were happy to see the assistance she was providing to the area seniors, but wondered about how local families and children might be managing.

“We were talking about the kids in the area and I had mentioned that we make pizza for the school every Wednesday for pizza day,” says Thomson, local resident and owner/operator of New Orleans Pizza in Thornbury. “There are all those kids who get their pizza for lunch and they are missing it. And, not only that, there are a lot of children that eat their breakfast at the breakfast program at the school and we were concerned about how we could reach them and get them some assistance.”

From there, the next community project was born, which Lewis Knight has fondly titled Village Meals in an ode to the saying, "it takes a village".

The project will launch this Sunday and will see 10 local families, who have been identified by the local school and BVO, receive a care package with all the makings of a Sunday dinner, prepared and oven-ready.

“The elderly are one thing, but the longer this goes on, there are going to be families that are having a difficult time too,” Thomson says. “We [New Orleans Pizza] are providing a large pizza for each of those families to give Mom a break from making a meal one night, to give a treat to the kids and we hope that will help in easing the burden a little bit.”

Village Meals has also received some kickstart funding from the Gamble family, in honour of the late Bob Gamble, one of the area’s former council members and beloved community member who passed away earlier this year.

“Bob Gamble’s family contacted the church and said that they had wanted to donate some funds in honour of their Dad,” explains Lewis Knight. “We went back to the family and asked how they would feel about the money being put towards the seed money for this family program, and they thought it was perfect.”

This week’s first Sunday dinner will feature roast beef, a Sunday-dinner staple at the Gamble home.

“There have been a lot of people who commented about the fact that this would be something that would make Bob smile because he was so involved in the community. It is a very nice tribute to their Dad,” Lewis Knight adds.

The Gamble family has donated enough funds to feed 10 local families a Sunday dinner every week for the next three weeks.  

Lewis Knights says both the senior and family projects have been funded through community donations for the next several weeks, but anyone interested in making further donations is welcome to contact St. George’s Anglican Church.

“With the family program we are trying to add some extra things to it so that it is not just one meal thing,” says Lewis Knight. “I have a donor that has donated some money for some outdoor toys. I have another donor who is going to provide the money so that we can put cheese and crackers in every package as well. Eventually, what I would like to do is add some granola bars and juice boxes, the things kids are used to having.”

She adds both of the programs are currently at capacity, however, if additional families are identified, they may consider rotating deliveries to ensure everyone is reached.

Outside of financial contributions, community members who may be looking to get involved are welcome to consider donating items. Lewis Knight says she would welcome packaged items, like granola bars or juice boxes, but unfortunately cannot accept anything homemade.

The next project on her list - Mother’s Day.

“I am looking for some assistance for Village Meals on Mother’s Day May 10. I would like to make vintage picnic baskets for each family full of all sorts of family favourites,” she posted to her Facebook page. “Do you have any large baskets that you are willing to part with? Or a table cloth or two?”

Both Knight Lewis and Thomson speak to how project outcomes like these highlight the benefit of living in a small community.

“Everyone is more connected and people know who to reach out to and who has what, and so, it is definitely a bonus,” Thomson says. “If you dig deep I think there are people doing what they can at every level. Everyone gives of the talents that they have, of the time that they have and that is just the way the whole community works.”

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Jennifer Golletz

About the Author: Jennifer Golletz

Jennifer Golletz covers civic matters under the Local Journalism Initative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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