Holiday help for small community after devastating fire

December 22, 2020

Woman unloading grocery bags from truck
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Around midnight on December 4, 2020, a fire broke out in independently-owned Sayer Foods, destroying the only grocery store in the village of Apsley, Ontario, in the township of North Kawartha. The nearest grocery store is about 50 kilometres away, a long haul at the best of times — and 2020 certainly hasn’t been the best of times.

"As soon as we heard about the situation, we knew the PC ExpressTM service could help," says Lauren Steinberg, Senior Vice-President, Loblaw Digital.

"It gave us an opportunity to do what we do so well — get groceries into the hands of those who need them when they need them."

Our nearest store with PC Express service is the Real Canadian Superstore® location in Peterborough, which is 60 kilometres away. Travelling that distance to pick up groceries isn’t ideal and, for many, unrealistic, so we thought, what if we brought the groceries to them?

"Creating capacity in a store like Peterborough at the busiest time of the year is not an easy thing to do," says Lauren. "But the response from our leadership team and Ryan Willis, manager of the Peterborough store, was, 'Anything you need, whatever you want, you got it.' It's not an easy thing to do but it's the right thing to do."

The team quickly pulled together a plan to bring 80 grocery orders per day from Peterborough to Apsley for three days leading up to Christmas. The store added extra shifts in the PC Express department to manage an increase in orders. And we brought in a truck from the GTA to make twice-daily runs between the store and the town.

"This is the first time we've allowed pick-up straight out of a truck of this size, so it required additional organization," explains Lauren. "Especially in light of COVID."

There are so many people who want to volunteer but to limit contact and maintain social distancing, we’ve kept the on-the-ground staff to two people: the driver, who’ll be inside the truck grabbing the groceries, and Lauren herself, who’ll be outside distributing them.

The other hurdle was simplifying the PC Express service for the residents of Apsley, where a large percentage of its population of 2,500 are over the age of 65.

"We wanted to make it easy for them, especially since many in the community have never shopped for groceries online,” says Lauren. “A small group of developers, designers and project managers worked on building a custom Apsley page to simplify the experience for them.”

The first orders arrived at the North Kawartha Community Centre on December 20.

"Our immediate goal was to make the holiday season a little easier for residents, and I think we’ve achieved that," says Lauren.

Re-building the local grocery store will take some time, and we’re open to continuing our support in the new year, if the residents of Apsley are on board.

In addition, Loblaw will provide $5,000 worth of items to the North Kawartha Food Bank in January to help replenish stock that was used up over the holidays.

"Everyone's really busy, our teams are tired, but these are the kinds of things that actually invigorate them versus burn them out," says Lauren. "It's these types of things they want to do more of, especially during such a tough time in a tough year." 

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