WIIKWEMKOONG – Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Michael Tibollo is no stranger to Manitoulin Island, having dropped by wearing at least three hats during his tenure in the Ontario cabinet in the past few years, but as the masked cabinet member jumps out of the Sprinter truck in front of the Wikwemikong High School, he immediately makes it clear that he is serving simply as a volunteer driver on this sojourn into the North—it’s his daughter I need to talk to on this particular trip.
Minister Tibollo’s daughter, Frances Tibollo, is a Toronto lawyer spearheading a drive to help combat food insecurity during the pandemic. She and her friends spent seven hours travelling up from the south with two trucks packed with healthy food. Her father was spending his one day a week off as a volunteer driver.
“We are here on behalf of the National Conference of Italian Canadians’ Pasta it Forward initiative,” said Ms. Tibollo taking a break from unloading the foodstuffs into the waiting freezers in the school’s storage areas. “Today we find ourselves in lovely Wiikwemkoong on Manitoulin Island after being graciously invited by Chief Duke Peltier.”
Ogimaa Peltier had witnessed Ms. Tibollo and her work during a meeting in Sudbury where they group was delivering food. She made a commitment that she would see him “next week” and on the following Saturday, she and her family and friends loaded up the trucks and set out—with short stops along the way to check out the blooming trilliums.
The inspiration for Pasta it Forward came from one of Ms. Tibollo’s friends who purchased a tray of Italian food to donate to a needy family as a way of “paying it forward,” thus the inspiration for the name of the program.
“I thought it was such neat idea that I bought one too,” she said. “After, when we learned that those trays had provided two meals for six families and elders I was hooked. There is so much need out there during these times that we had to find a way to help out.”
“It is a wonderful and great opportunity,” said Ogimaa Peltier, standing in the Wikwemikong High School gymnasium filled to the brim with two weeks of food supplies. “We are grateful for the partnership with Pasta it Forward and the Tibollos and this level of generosity to our community members. It is very welcome to all of our homes in the community in need of food support.”
Ogimaa Peltier explained that part of the band’s strategy for combatting the spread of COVID-19 into the community was to limit as much as possible the need for community members to travel outside the boundaries to get supplies.
“Our own grocery store was struggling to keep up with the increased demand when a number of our community members were no longer shopping outside the community,” he said. The strategy involved sourcing large amounts of bulk foods from a wide range of suppliers and converting the closed high school into a temporary distribution centre.
“We deliver to singles on Mondays and families on Fridays,” said food distribution coordinator Scott Flamand, a consultant with a bit of time on his hands lately. “A lot of my clients are First Nations communities, so they are pretty much shut down right now. This helps me to help my community.”
Mr. Tibollo may have been on his day off, but that didn’t prevent him from chatting with local mental health and addictions workers about their local efforts and hooking Ogimaa Peltier up with Premier Doug Ford for a short chat.
Volunteer truck driver or not, there is apparently not much in the way of rest for cabinet ministers. After the unloading of the trucks and a few photo ops and the obligatory video of the physically distanced and masked volunteers calling out the theme catchphrase “Pasta it Forward,” the team buckled up for the return trip south.
It was a whirlwind trip, but Ms. Tibollo was adamant that she was going to take the opportunity to enjoy the sight of Ontario’s official flowers blooming in their full glory under the hardwood boughs on the way home.