TORONTO — The Purolator Tackle Hunger program is one that's near and dear to Jamal Campbell's heart.
Growing up, the hulking Toronto Argonauts offensive lineman's family sometimes had to go to a food bank or accept donations to ensure there was enough to eat. Campbell and his three siblings were raised by their single mother — who worked two jobs trying to make ends meet — and grandmother.
And keeping up with a growing Campbell (who's now six foot six and 305 pounds) was no small feat.
"Oh no, I ate a lot," he said. "That's the reason why I grew."
"That program is important because it's something that's come full circle for me," Campbell added. "Growing up we depended on, at different times, food banks, donations and the generosity of others.
"The thing is my mom was already doing what she could to provide for us and we still needed that support. I don't know where we would be without it and I think it's definitely important."
The CFL and Purolator have partnered on this initiative since 2013. The program partners with food banks, and typically focuses on game-day food drives in all nine CFL cities to gather food donations from fans.
Since its inception, the program has collected over 13 million pounds of food resulting in over 18 million meals across Canada for those in need. And a donation of $1 can provide two meals.
But the novel coronavirus outbreak has made it hard on food banks to keep up with increased demand, especially with many currently not accepting donations for precautionary reasons. Even before the pandemic, Foodbanks Canada estimated in 2019 that one in six households across Canada experienced food shortages with 35.2 per cent of those affected being children.
"The thing is it's OK to ask for help, to get help," Campbell said. "And then to give it back in the end when you're able to provide it.
"I think if there's anybody or any family that are in need of assistance but don't know how to go about it, I'd say just reach out for help. There's going to be help available and there are people, organizations and initiatives like this that always want to help."
People who want to donate can do so by visiting www.Tacklehunger.ca.
"Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen all Canadians come together to support one another," said Purolator president/CEO John Ferguson. "Our team is so proud of the work we do to help keep our economy moving and bring critical supplies to those who need them most.
"Through our Purolator Tackle Hunger program _ and the support of our partners like the CFL _ we want to further extend this support to even more Canadians relying on food banks as a result of the impacts of COVID-19."
CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie said the impact of the novel coronavirus outbreak has been felt all over the world.
"This virus has impacted our lives in countless ways: financially, emotionally, mentally and so much more, including a drastic increase in food insecurity," he said on the CFL's website. "This crisis is larger than sports and business; it’s about people and life.
"The coronavirus and food insecurity affect us all — children, families, communities and at our core, who we are as Canadians. Now more than ever, we must uplift, support and protect one another."
Campbell, 26, has been very active in the community since being selected by the Argos in the third round, No. 22 overall, in the 2016 CFL draft out of York University. Campbell was named a Toronto Urban Hero in 2017 for his community work and didn't think twice about being the Argos spokesman this year for the Purolator program.
"I understand how important initiatives like this are," he said. "I've gone to the Daily Bread Food Bank (in Toronto) and seen what the sorting process is and met all the volunteers and staff.
"It's a wonderful thing to see in a city like Toronto where you have a community that really cares about each other. That's how we're going to get through this COVID-19 pandemic, with unity, staying together and supporting programs like this and all the food banks in your area, all the charities."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 27, 2020.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press