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Sault businesses, big and small, providing free meals, grocery delivery and masks during pandemic

‘Everyone’s got to do what they can,’ Soo Mill president says

Sault businesses, both big and small, have stepped up to help others while the COVID-19 virus continues to affect our lives.

Soo Mill is responding to the much-reported need for masks for health care workers. 

Randy Aikens, Soo Mill president, became aware of an online source of protective masks through one of the hardware store’s trusted regular suppliers. 

“I phoned Sault Area Hospital to see if they needed any, and their comment was yes, they definitely needed some, they were running short,” Aikens told SooToday.

Soo Mill placed an order with the mask manufacturer, and as of Thursday, Aikens said 16,000 masks had been purchased by Soo Mill and donated to SAH, with another 15,000 masks puchased by Soo Mill and on the way, to be donated to the hospital.

Aikens said because the hospital likes the quality of the masks, SAH has decided to order and purchase 100,000 more masks through Soo Mill, meaning Soo Mill, through donations and sales, will have provided 130,000 masks to SAH. 

“They’ve been very appreciative, very thankful (at SAH)...they were concerned about getting supplies, getting ready. I’m just glad we can help out. These are strange times and everyone’s got to do what they can (to help),” Aikens said.

Meanwhile, Blake Richards, owner/operator of downtown eatery Low & Slow, along with staff members Natalie Poirier and Dalton Boissoneau, have been doing their part to feed the vulnerable and disadvantaged, specifically Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) and Social Services Sault Ste. Marie District clients.

“If they’re with Social Services, they come in for takeout and say ‘I’m here for the special’ and they get a soup and sandwich for free (for takeaway). I like making soup and seeing people,” Richards said.

In addition, Richards said “we feed eight people a day at the Canadian Mental Health Association, people who can’t feed themselves, so we make sure they're fed.”

Low & Slow is also providing free soup and sandwiches for individuals referred by Grocer 4 Good, a local social enterprise which officially opened March 6.

“We’ve been serving 10 people daily, up to 20 people some days. We serve good sandwiches and soup (brisket, baloney or salami sandwiches, for example, along with chicken noodle or leek soups).”

“We had one person ask for the recipe for one of our soups. They’re liking the food, I like to see people,” Richards said.

“It makes me feel good. They’re giving me something to do (at a time when restaurants have closed their dining areas due to COVID-19 fears, only their takeout and delivery services available). I don’t like to sit around. I always need to be doing something, so they’re helping me as much as I’m helping them. It works out both ways.”

Also doing good deeds during this period is a group of volunteer drivers who have been delivering groceries to elderly shut ins and anyone else currently hunkered down at home during the COVID-19 crisis.

“With the pandemic there’s been a downshift. We had to basically part ways with a lot of our contractors who worked with us. With the downturn in business they’ve been displaced, but we had a few who were interested in helping the community out in this way. While we’re not a grocery delivery service we have the technology to reach out to people, especially those at risk,” said Stephen Findlay, Driverseat Sault Ste. Marie owner/operator.

“I was compelled to do it. I wanted to give back to the community. We’re managing the program from a technology perspective on our end, but the true heroes are the people who are volunteering their time, their fuel, their vehicles.”

Grocery orders are placed by customers through the Driverseat app, customers able to choose orders of $75 or $150 worth of groceries.

Orders may be subject to a two-day wait for delivery, depending on the volume of calls.

Upon delivery of the order, customers have the option of whether or not to pay the driver.

“It’s a pay what you can, pay what you want program. So far the customers have been fantastic (in paying the drivers for their time and effort). They get smiles and waves (from customers behind their doors or living room windows) and great tips, so it definitely makes it worthwhile for the volunteers who joined us.”

Findlay said four volunteer drivers are currently performing these good deeds, hoping to add another half dozen drivers to the group.

“So far it’s been great. We’ve had several dozen happy customers. We started up just over a week ago and we’ve served about three dozen customers. We’ve dropped off groceries on their porch. There’s no contact. Everything’s paid for through the Driverseat app.”

For the elderly, who are not as familiar with technology as the younger generation, Findlay said younger relatives have stepped in to use the Driverseat app to place orders for their parents/grandparents. 

“We wanted to do a pilot project for a few weeks, to serve anybody in the community. Anybody can access us, in hope of keeping people at home versus going out and infecting others, especially if they’ve been to other places on vacation. People need to get food and supplies but some people don't have the help they need.”

“It’s open to everybody. We’re going to do it until probably the end of April or early May and then we’re going to be just focusing on the more vulnerable demographic. We’ll look and see if there’s any value in doing the outlying communities as well.”

Findlay said “it feels great. The community’s been great to us at Driverseat the past six years, so for us to reach out and do something worthwhile like this, it definitely feels good. It makes us truly happy while we’re waiting for things to get back to normal.”

McDougall Energy is doing its part for first responders, healthcare workers and transport truck drivers at this time.  

“We wanted to provide a little peace of mind to these people who live and work in our communities,” said Michael Carroll, McDougall Energy’s corporate retail director.

Carroll and the team started off by offering free beverages, snacks and meals to first responders, health care workers, and truckers visiting the McDougall Energy-owned Nairn Centre Esso – Jeremy’s Country Restaurant on Highway 17 at Nairn Centre.

“For these folks, there has to be some nourishment, some energy. That was on April 1st, and then on Monday April 6th we started a different offer at our gas station convenience stores in the Sault (as well as Thunder Bay, Blind River, Elliot Lake and Carleton Place).”

“The customers that are receiving the offers (at Nairn Centre) have expressed nothing but appreciation and gratitude to our staff for providing that to them. We’re averaging 20 plus meals a day in Nairn Centre, the meal of the day or the breakfast special. We want the word to get out that it's there for them to take advantage of, to help them (truckers) in their long days of moving around essential goods.”     

Free bottles of water, pop, a bag of chips, one energy bar and one free coffee, tea, or hot chocolate are also free for first responders, health care workers and truckers at McDougall’s retail outlets, located in Sault Ste. Marie at 3 Trunk Rd., 207 Wellington St. West, 442 Bruce St., 400 McNabb St. and 266 Korah Rd.

“The staff say the appreciation the customers are showing them has put a smile on their faces. It’s a way of giving back to our community,” Carroll said.