Grad student addresses food insecurity in Ontario as co-founder of a grassroots community initiative

Food made by volunteer chefs
Food made by volunteer chefs
Jade Crimson Rose Da Costa
People’s Pantry co-founder Jade Crimson Rose Da Costa

Focusing their area of study on Queer and Trans* Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (QTBIPOC) activism in Toronto, Jade Crimson Rose Da Costa (they/their) is letting their actions speak louder than words. The pandemic has increased the need for community outreach, and Da Costa has helped to create a place where volunteers can give back.

Da Costa, a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at York University, is a co-founding member of The People’s Pantry, a grassroots solidarity group that came into fruition in late March during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The organization was created to support individuals who have been disproportionately affected by the global pandemic, including QTBIPOC folks, newcomers, sex workers and the precariously housed, by providing them with free grocery care packages and home-cooked meals.

“It’s been rewarding for me and for the people we have connected with,” Da Costa said. “We go beyond canned foods; we make sure we give people good food and listen to their dietary restrictions.”

People's Pantry co-founder Andrea Román Alfaro
People’s Pantry co-founder Andrea Román Alfaro

The initiative began with only seven members but has quickly grown to now include more than 500 volunteers, including some York University graduate and undergraduate students. Since its inception, The People’s Pantry has secured more than $45,000 in funds through community donations and partnerships with United Way and FoodShare Toronto.

While the experience of developing a grassroots solidarity group that’s making a real difference in the lives of people living in and around the Greater Toronto Area has been incredibly rewarding, Da Costa says it’s not always easy. “Essential services are necessary, but they are also difficult. You must be motivated by a commitment to the community and the want to support other people. You can get burnt out and, as an organization, we grew very quickly. You have to remember to set boundaries for yourself.”

People's Pantry co-founders Ellie Ade Kur and Yann Garcia
People’s Pantry co-founders Ellie Ade Kur and Yann Garcia

Co-founding The People’s Pantry has also given Da Costa a new perspective on academia and their own research. Da Costa has come to realize the importance of not just writing about the world but being an active participant in efforts to make it a better place. “Sometimes writing isn’t enough and our work should be grounded in action. We need to try to better balance the demands of academia and not just produce for ourselves but actually help the community.”

As Da Costa looks toward the future, they hope the work of The People’s Pantry will extend beyond COVID-19 as the resulting economic effects of the pandemic will be most felt by those communities already in need. “The pandemic has made salient what most QTBIPOC activists in Toronto already knew: the problem is systemic and our/these communities were experiencing food insecurity long before COVID-19 hit and will continue to long after the pandemic is over.”

The People’s Pantry is accepting support through their GoFundMe campaign.