COVID-19 cases in Kingston, Ont. puts a strain on community resources for the holidays – CTV News Ottawa

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Kimberley Johnson CTV News Ottawa Multi-Skilled Journalist
@KimberleyNJ Contact
As the COVID-19 Omicron variant continues to sweep through Kingston, Ont., it is putting a strain on all sorts of resources. 
Thousands have been forced into mandatory isolation, and that is placing the strain on community groups and volunteers, just as they begin to prepare for the holidays, distributing vital programs to those who need them.
That includes at Martha’s Table, which has been preparing Christmas Eve meals for decades, giving them out to those who need them.
"The impact of Omicron on our program is incredible," says Executive Director Ronda Candy. "We’re busier than ever with less of a workforce."
The Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington Public Health region has the highest rate of COVID-19 cases in the country. With many in mandatory isolation across the region, Candy says many of their volunteers have had to take a step back.
"Typically we’d have about 25 people in house," she explains of a typical year. "This year, we expect to have about eight. So it’s going to be well thought out, and using everyone’s time and energy efficiently."
This comes as they expect to feed 500 people for their popular Christmas Eve meal.
"That’s our focus: continuing operations, ensuring we’re not shut down," she says. 
"It’s our personal worry and a community worry."
At Tommy’s Kitchen on Princess Street, the restaurant is readying for their annual Christmas Hamper event, which packages up bags with a full turkey dinner, including potatoes, vegetables and pies. This year, owner Tommy Hunter says the need is greater than ever, with 650 families signed up.
To deliver those, and cooked meals, it is a 400-person volunteer operation, explains Hunter, and COVID-19 cases have already affected a number of long-term volunteers. 
"We’ve got a week to go and who knows how many more close contacts they’ll be and now how many COVID infections we’ll have between now and then," he explains. 
From cooks, to drivers, Christmas Day programs like these continue to put out the call to those who are willing to volunteer, to keep their vital programs afloat. 
“From the time they pick up to the time they drop off, at no point will they be indoors,” says Hunter. “They will be expected to be masked even when they are picking up outdoors so we’re operating in a safe way. But we definitely do need some more drive teams to help deliver to the families in need.”
Candy says that they too could use drivers for their own home delivery program, and are looking for cooks to help. The programs, determined to go on.
"It’s a challenge," says Candy. "But we’re determined."
Volunteers pack up bags for their annual Christmas Hamper Drive in December of 2020. (Photo courtesy: Tommy Hunter)
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