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  • Writer's pictureDave Shellnutt

The Bike Brigade: 1 year of Radical Cycling

Updated: Oct 26, 2021

March 16, 2020, was a day of uncertainty and fear for many. The pandemic had in an instant taken over our lives. The world shut down.

I remember running across the city in those early days, it was quiet but tense. We didn't know what to expect. But we knew we would need to work together.

Today, marks the 1-year anniversary of people on bikes banding together to provide a safe and impactful volunteer delivery service. Inspired by the lighting quick leadership of community groups across the city (shout to Parkdale), we wanted to help.

Early Days

In those early days, we turned to Facebook groups (Care Mongering TO) and began helping seniors and other isolated people with grocery runs and prescription pick-ups.

Masks quickly became a hot item as PPE supplies dwindled. Sewing armies across Toronto leapt into action, making masks in the thousands out of whatever material they could get their hands on. We helped deliver hundreds of masks to birth centers and hospitals in desperate need of PPE.

The Bike Brigade started out as an emergency response amongst a few friends, but rapidly blossomed into a huge volunteer effort. We collectively organized a logistics team of 10+ people, while fundamentally relying on the pedal power of a dynamic and diverse group Toronto cyclists.

I have done a lot of volunteering in my life, but this level of dedication, compassion, and commitment, was the grounding we all needed in such a difficult time.

Seeing people come together in a coordinated effort to help each other was a rousing triumph in a bleak spring.

1000s of kilometers covered

Throughout the summer, fall and winter of 2020, people on bikes delivered thousands of pounds of food, hundreds of masks, and an unflinching sense of togetherness. We formed long lasting partnerships and bonds with mutual aid and community organizations to deliver food boxes, menstrual products, and art therapy supplies.

We were trained by the incredible people at #NotAnotherBlackLife to provide bike marshal safety to protests as Black organizers and communities radically changed the landscape within which we view anti-Blackness. Through their leadership and guidance, we were able to stand in solidarity and keep people safe as many other groups demonstrated against injustice at over 30 actions since June 2020.

We were blessed with an incredible volunteer tech team that created a dispatch ap/system to coordinate our riders safely and effectively. The levels of data, planning, and security that go into our behind the scenes operations is wild.

In the early days, we would do maybe a few dozen deliveries every week. Thanks to our tech marvels and growing core team, we have scaled up operations in a big way.

We now deliver hundreds of meals, food, and supplies every single week.

a post-pandemic reality

Certainly, COVID-19 and its effect on our communities will rage on. The pandemic has merely illuminated critical pre-existing issues like food insecurity, homelessness, and racial injustice. These issues, brought about and exacerbated by systemic failures are not going anywhere.

Our governments remain reactionary. They lack the commitment necessary to find real solutions and action them.

The wealth gap has only grown during the pandemic. Soon, we will be told by our governments that resources are scare, and cuts need to be made, to social services of course. It will be our communities and regular people that continue to bear the brunt.

Nevertheless, the Bike Brigade will continue providing a green, volunteer, and radical response to systemic failures.

Simply put, people on bikes will continue to ride and deliver food and supplies to people in need.

Our bike marshals will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with movements pushing back and demanding change.

Just last week we had 131 volunteer cyclists ride 648 kms to deliver 178 boxes of food and 636 hot meals. This week, we will deliver our 5000th donated food box for Foodshare Toronto.

In supporting community, we have built community.

Dave Shellnutt


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