When the pandemic forced communities into lockdown in March, Adam Zivo offered to deliver groceries to his mother as a way to help in a time of need.
Soon after, he set out to help the broader community by creating LifeCrates, an initiative that helped to address food insecurity among low-income seniors.
“Low-income seniors are a particularly vulnerable demographic during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Zivo, a master of public policy student at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy who is graduating this week. “In the earlier stages of this health crisis, it was unclear whether it was safe for seniors to shop at grocery stores. Some were able to work around their safety concerns by to arranging for grocery delivery.
“For some seniors, though, grocery delivery wasn’t financially feasible.”
Nearly 16 per cent of Toronto’s population are seniors aged 65 and over, according to the 2016 cenus. Out of this group of older adults, nearly half live in economically precarious conditions and 17 per cent of seniors are considered low income. The pandemic exacerbated food security issues for this group.
“Older adults are already vulnerable in normal times and, as the pandemic unfolds, many have been cut off from their regular support systems, such as food banks,” says Zivo. “When I launched LifeCrates, no other organization appeared to focus on needs of low-income seniors. It simply made sense for this initiative to fill that gap.”
LifeCrates began as way to address the acute food security crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. With the help of registered dieticians who vetted packages for their nutritional value and longevity, LifeCrates personnel delivered a month’s worth of food to low-income seniors. Given the critical nature of food insecurity, Zivo’s main focus was to set up quickly by “getting the simplest, market-viable product out there” and making improvements as he went.
“In situations like these, it isn’t a choice between an imperfectly equitable solution and an equitable one, but rather a choice between an imperfectly equitable solution and no solution at all,” he says.
Zivo says that peers from the MPP program contributed to the development of LifeCrates.
“Lawrence Zhang created an initial jurisdictional scan that helped identify other organizations that were offering services that were similar to what I wanted LifeCrates to offer. Arpit Kumar conducted research on community engagement. Finally, Erica McLaughlin, who is finishing the joint MPP-JD program, wrote a fantastic evaluation report based on a small sample of qualitative interviews with our initial food recipients.”
Zivo notes that formally studying program evaluation and implementation in the MPP program has been instrumental to LifeCrates’ success.
“We managed to secure a sizeable partnership with Fred Victor, which is one of Toronto’s leading organizations servicing housing-insecure individuals. Incorporating the skills and practices I learned in the MPP program meant that I could more confidently communicate LifeCrates’ value and negotiate a deal to get food out to communities as soon as possible.”
LifeCrates completed its final delivery in August.
“Even post-pandemic, there will always be food insecure individuals,” Zivo says. “Our core mandate was to address an acute crisis during the early months of COVID-19, and we did that by delivering 7,500 kg of food to more than 400 individuals. We saw what the food deliveries food meant to the recipients. I’m extremely proud of what we accomplished.”
Zivo is set to graduate from U of T at a virtual convocation ceremony on Nov. 21 and has been working at Harbourfront Centre’s new digital transformation department since September. In addition to helping him make LifeCrates a success, Zivo credits the MPP program with helping him excel in his new job role.
“My goal, as always, is to find new ways to add value to the people I work with,” he says. “My MPP degree has supported my work at Harbourfront Centre by providing me with the ability to understand the centre within a larger institutional and policy context. There are significant overlaps between what I do at Harbourfront now and what I did with LifeCrates. My work here is fundamentally about communications and innovation, which is what LifeCrates was all about.”