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Delivering hope in the Niagara region

Last Spring, the Gay Lea Foundation awarded a grant to Open Arms Mission of Welland to improve its ability to collect and distribute food safely to its partner food agencies across the Niagara region. Since the investment, the volunteer-driven organization has delivered more than 20,000 pounds of fresh fruit, vegetables and meat it would not otherwise have been able to deliver to those in need.

Open Arms Mission of Welland has been serving low-income residents of the Niagara region since the late 1980s. It has grown from a small food bank to offering its clients community programming, a furniture bank, a community garden and a hot lunch program. Today, with its large warehouse, central location, active volunteer base and cold storage capacity, it is uniquely suited to be a regional food hub in Niagara, capable of increasing the capacity of all food security agencies in the region.

With the Foundation grant of $9,613, Open Arms purchased and installed two temperature-controlled cargo boxes, called coldtrainers, in their delivery vehicles. This lets them safely transport more healthy, perishable food between producers, warehouse storage and food security agencies, keeping the food safe and usable for longer and divert more food waste from local landfills.

“With food safety regulations, it was difficult to properly transport food to other agencies,” said Executive Director Marty Misener. “Many of these agencies would not have been able to acquire these items due to the cost and their limited infrastructure. The Gay Lea Foundation investment has drastically improved the way food is distributed by Open Arms Mission.”

Misener said farmers and other suppliers appreciate the food they are donating is stored and transported safely since their company’s name may be connected to their donation. Agencies in the region are also seeking Open Arms’ insight and feedback with a growing desire for more collaboration and share resources to combat hunger in the Niagara region, he added.

 “Last summer, we delivered 700 lbs. of chicken to an agency that provides hot meals to 600 people per week,” said Misener. “The staff member, with tears in her eyes, said: ‘Thank you for bringing us this chicken. It is hard to get chicken. Many of our donors have stopped their donations since their businesses are not operating or doing poorly. Your donation is so timely and deeply appreciated.’”

The donation also helped Open Arms bring food to migrant workers. These workers could not get to their local grocery store as frequently during the pandemic, as it closed before many workers finished work. “When I learned of this issue, I developed a plan with the pastor of a church that supported the workers,” said Misener. “We brought them about 700 lbs. of food twice a month.”

“Open Arms of Welland is eternally grateful for this donation,” Misener added. “The impact the coldtainers are making in the fight against hunger in the Niagara region is incredible.”


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