United Way and GM fight hunger and climate in Durham Region

The United Way Durham Region and General Motors have partnered on a new program called Meals and Trees. Photo credit: United Way Durham Region

The United Way Durham Region and General Motors have partnered on a new initiative which aims to tackle hunger and climate sustainability.

The program, which started late last month, is called Meals and Trees and runs until Oct. 14.

For every $20 donation to the campaign, two meals are provided to feed the hungry in the region and a tree is given to the donor to plant in Durham.

Robert Howard, chief possibility officer and vice-president of external relations at United Way Durham Region says the issues being tackled in the Meals and Trees initiative align with its mission.

“There are a couple of things right at the core of the United Way mission. One is that you build better and more prosperous communities by helping people who are least advantaged and living on the margin,” says Howard.

“The second part of that equation is that you can actually tackle global problems by working locally, and there is no better example of that in my opinion then hunger and climate sustainability.”

Robert Howard, chief possibility officer and vice-president of external relations at United Way Durham Region.
Robert Howard, chief possibility officer and vice-president of external relations at United Way Durham Region. Photo credit: United Way Durham Region

Many people have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic whether it be loss of employment, or reduced access to social services. Food banks have seen a significant increase in the number of individuals receiving support.

From March to August food banks in Durham Region saw an estimated 74 per cent increase in first time clients compared to the same period in 2019, according to a release from Feed the need in Durham.

There was also an estimated 182 per cent increase in individuals reporting no income from any source at food banks in Durham during the same time period, compared to those months in 2019.

Victoria Derusha, operations coordinator for Feed the need in Durham – a separate organization from the United Way – expects as the pandemic continues the number of individuals using food banks is likely going to increase.

“Yes, we are seeing new people who have never visited a food bank before and we anticipate as the recovery progresses that there will be other people who have never attended a food bank that are going to need some help,” says Derusha.

Howard says food provided from donations to the Meals and Trees initiative will aid agencies all over Durham, with at risk areas and shelters a priority.

For individuals who make a donation, red and white pine tree seedlings will be available for pickup at General Motors dealerships in Durham Oct. 17. United Way Durham Region will also plant any trees that are not picked up.

Howard hopes families growing these trees will influence younger generations to become interested in climate sustainability.

“My grandchild’s got two trees and right now he’s got them in his house, and he’s watching them grow and is going to measure them,” says Howard. “He’s four and he’s going to go online and check to see how much oxygen this thing can produce, and then in the springtime we’ll take it outside and we’ll plant it.”

The target is to sell 500 meal trays and trees, producing $10,000 for the campaign.

“My instinct is this is going to be very successful,” says Howard. “We already have a number. I don’t want to scoop myself, but yes, the response has been really positive.”

For information on how to donate to Meals & Trees, visit United Way Durham Regions website.

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