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Sault company steps in to save Algoma district Meals on Wheels program

Pandemic bringing back sense of 'neighbourhood and belonging,' administrator says
Meals on Wheels delivery take out food

Not the sort of people to sit still during an economic downturn (this one caused by COVID-19), three Sling-Choker employees have stepped forward to volunteer their time and efforts to help (and ultimately save) an Algoma district Meals on Wheels program.

Sling-Choker serves the Sault and Algoma district as an industrial supplier to the area’s steel, forestry, mining, construction and renewable energy sectors.

In need of help with its Meals on Wheels program during the current pandemic, the Physically Handicapped Adults Rehabilitation Association (PHARA), based in Thessalon, reached out for assistance with meal delivery.

“I wondered if there was a way we could give back to the community, and I do have some health care experience in my background, so I thought this might be something. We have people, we have vehicles, we have fuel, we have people who like to drive, so it worked out perfectly,” said Brian Wallenius, Sling-Choker’s Sault office manager, speaking to SooToday.

“It always feels good when you can help somebody.”

“We knew we were coming into a period where our trucks wouldn’t be moving as much as they were before (due to the COVID-19 economic downturn)...we knew we’d have at least three trucks available on any given day. We wanted to get out and do something. The manager called PHARA and we’ve been able to cover them (PHARA’s Meals on Wheels program) for Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays,” said Bill Johnstone, Sling-Choker territory sales manager.

Bill approaches each Meals on Wheels client’s home (Sling-Choker serving people in Thessalon and Bruce Mines, specifically), wearing PPE and delivering meals to the doorstep, gratified to see smiling faces and grateful hands to receive meals.

“It’s been very’s been fantastic, absolutely,” said Bill, who delivers with Brian Wallenius and Rod Bolduc (Sling-Choker’s crane operator).

“It was a game changer,” said Mike Van der Vlist, PHARA CEO, of Sling-Choker’s help.

“We have a very dedicated volunteer base in Thessalon (but) a lot of our drivers are seniors so you can appreciate the need (for those seniors) to self isolate. We sat down and started thinking ‘how do we keep this going?’ As a non-profit, charitable organization we asked for help. We sent out to every organization in Algoma, and I have no idea who told who, but Sling-Choker called us.”

With the help of the Sling-Choker crew, Van der Vlist said “we were not only able to deliver the same number of meals but take on additional individuals (clients) living at home during the pandemic, which is significant because it’s a small program which spans across a large geographical area with four communities (Bruce Mines, Thessalon, Thessalon First Nation and Iron Bridge).”

Van der Vlist said PHARA has also, with Sling-Choker’s help throughout the pandemic, been able to seek out and add five new volunteer drivers to deliver meals, ensuring the program’s survival for the foreseeable future.

“There are no concerns there will be any interruptions of services now.”

“A couple of months ago we were very concerned as to what the outcome would be. People were starting to get very worried (about the future of PHARA’s Meals on Wheels program),” Van der Vlist said.

“All of our clients have shared they’re appreciative this has continued.” 

“It (the pandemic) also gave us the opportunity to create an entirely virtual volunteer training program,” Van der Vlist added with a chuckle. 

The Algoma District Services Administration Board, Van der Vlist said, also stepped up with money for PHARA to secure PPE during this time.

“Sling-Choker fit in beautifully...while the pandemic has created concern, I think it’s bringing back the sense of neighbourhood and belonging,” Van der Vlist said.

Darren Taylor

About the Author: Darren Taylor

Darren Taylor is a news reporter and photographer in Sault Ste Marie. He regularly covers community events, political announcements and numerous board meetings. With a background in broadcast journalism, Darren has worked in the media since 1996.
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