Over that period, Tropicana Community Services has been a quiet but potent force for good in Toronto’s community life and its not-for-profit sector.

We’ve been changing lives and building human capital in our city for a good long time, yet in many ways we’re just getting started. Today, as we reach hopefully towards an open-ended future, we also look back at our four decades of history for strength and inspiration in uncertain times.

Our founders’ vision and foresight provided the groundwork on which to build and extend our programs and services. These have been a reliable source of solace and support to Torontonians in need—to the Black community primarily, but also to the community at large, regardless of people’s backgrounds. This is the special tailored yet inclusive legacy that our present leadership now gets to build on for the future, setting the stage for the next forty years of community development and growth.

The strength of that foundation is what enabled Tropicana to weather the coronavirus storm while continuing to serve people. Studies show us that COVID-19 is widening income inequities in Canada. It had devastating effects on individual lives in our communities, and on Black lives in particular. At Tropicana, we deal first-hand with that devastation every day. Our teams have seen how pre-existing pressure points in our families, homes and businesses have been inflamed by COVID-19, threatening to set hard-won progress back in significant ways and areas.

Although these setbacks are real, they need not be permanent or fatal. With the difficulties of the pandemic came an equal measure of opportunity. It’s up to us to, again, cast vision and exercise foresight.

Ready or not, COVID-19 catapulted society—and Tropicana with it—into the future. A future of intensified needs at the individual and family level and of creative possibilities at the organizational strategic level.

Before the pandemic, we did not question being in the office from 9 to 5. Face-to-face service delivery was the norm. Since March 2020, the pandemic has forced us to ask ourselves, “How can we do things differently to achieve our aims?”  Team Tropicana answered by quickly deploying plans, policies and digital tools that enabled the rapid shift of our operations from in person to virtual delivery with almost no downtime.

In response to COVID-driven surge in demand, we made investments to grow our food and clothing security programs. Unprecedented growth in individual and corporate donations this year will allow us to make similar investments across our program array to address the increasing and changing needs. 

These changes were by no means easy, and although many of our systems and processes were based on older work models, we proved that, as a team, we could “zoom” into an uncertain future embracing new tech and methods without abandoning our foundational principles.

For our founders in 1980, it may have been the PC. Today, A.I. and Machine Learning bring the potential to supercharge our programs and ensure Tropicana remains a source of relevant solutions to the emergent needs of a recovering and post-COVID world.

I am confident that our organization is not only able to stand, but to stand up to the challenges ahead by staying true to our shared mission and values.

The times are not ideal, but our ideals will pull us through them.