Food banks trying to keep up with demand, as need rises during holiday season

The pandemic and economic downtown are putting unprecedented pressure on GTA foodbanks. Maleeha Sheikh looks at how non-profits are coping with the surge in demand.

By Maleeha Sheikh

With the holidays fast approaching, more and more Canadians are relying on food banks to get them through these difficult times.

There are some who are using food banks for the very first time, while others who depended on them before, are continuing to come back. The rise in demand is putting pressure on some food banks in Toronto.

The manager of Flemingdon Food Bank in North York, Chadi Abed, says they cut their hours down to just two days a week during the pandemic due to limited resources. He says, with reduced hours, they are serving 25-30 per cent more people.

“I’m seeing different kinds of people. Some who just lost their jobs and need the food bank,” Abed says.

He adds in the early days of the pandemic, they received so many donations that there was barely room on the shelves for all of the food. But he has seen a gradual decrease.

Before, he would give households food based on the number of people who live in the home but now he says he can’t do that.

“The number of people continue to increase. I’m afraid. My shelves are now almost bare.” Abed says.

More well-known organizations are faring better when it comes to receiving donations.

North York Harvest Food Bank’s Director of Development and Marketing Henry Chiu says he is grateful to the community and city as they are currently serving 8,000 to 8,500 households a month.

This past summer, they served 75 per cent more people than the summer of 2019.

They’ve also had to change the way they operate by suspending volunteer activities in the building due to fears surrounding COVID-19. In addition, they’ve hired relief staff.

“In the past, people would use a choice model where clients could go and select the food that they need. But now everything is packaged in a hamper, so that we can get that process going as quickly as possible and people aren’t waiting in line,” says Chiu.

The City of Toronto tells CityNews on June 23 and October 20, the city announced funding for community services to help vulnerable populations.

In total, almost $7 million was allocated to community-based agencies supporting those impacted by COVID-19. Of that funding, $2.5 million has been allocated to exclusively address food insecurity.

The Minister of Children, Community and Social Services’ spokesperson says the government is investing $83 million through the Ontario Trillium Foundation to provide grants to help eligible non-profit organizations, including food banks, recover from COVID-19.

They have also provided $8 million in additional funding directly to Feed Ontario to produce and distribute pre-packaged hampers for food banks across the province.

University of Toronto’s Professor of Management Nicola Lacetera says it’s tough to say whether Canadians are in more of a giving mood during the holidays.

“When you have a sense that your disposable income is lower, then you might be less inclined to donate,” Lacetera says.

But he also adds some may still open their wallets. “It’s sort of instilled in us the need to help others, so this might lead to an increase in charitable giving.”

While North York Harvest Food Bank is grateful to the city and community, they are still weary of what may happen after the holidays are over.

“As the pandemic continues, issues like donor fatigue and whether people will still continue to support… that’s a real concern.” Chiu says.

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