How the Generosity of Canadians Helped Food Banks Across The Country

2020 started as usual for food bankers across the country, and usual meant busy, with already 1.1 million visits per month in Canada. Within a matter of weeks, everything changed. Businesses were shutting down, and as evidenced by long lineups of people forming at food banks all over Canada, food insecurity was at a heightened level, never seen before. 

As demands increased, and volunteers’ numbers decreased, food banks knew that they would need all the help they could get. 

Many food banks reported seeing their client numbers increase by up to 30% and they were worried about providing food for the unsurmountable amount of people that would appear at their doors. Peter Sinclair, executive director at the Loaves and Fishes Food Bank explains “There have been huge challenges as we adapted to COVID-19. We had to shift operations and adapt to the situation day by day”. Dany Hétu, who is the executive director at Moisson Rive-Sud echoed the same sentiments “Many of our agencies had to close their doors, especially because of the lack of volunteers. Serving more clients than usual with a small number of volunteers is very challenging, so we had to completely pivot our operations and moved to a service delivery model”.  

Across the country, we heard food banks talking about their struggles to keep their staff, volunteers and clients safe while dealing with the emerging surge of clients. 

There was also the issue of acquiring PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) for staff and clients. 

“One of our first challenges was procuring a steady supply of PPE items for our staff and clients as their safety remained our priority. Because of the high demand in the country, there were a number of delays for PPE orders. As soon as we could, we ordered plexiglass, masks, gloves, shields and sanitizers and taught our clients and volunteers the new rules of social engagement so we could keep our doors open” explained Bernadette Siracky, executive director at the Kamloops Food Bank. 

The team at Food Banks Canada realized the challenges and knew they had to step up to help. This is when the $150 million COVID-19 Emergency Food Fund was established to support the 4,000 communities across the Canadian food bank network. 

Initially, the team was worried, as they were trying to raise more than 7 times the usual amount, but this changed quickly as hundreds of thousands of Canadians, small and large businesses, private and family foundations and the government answered the call. 

With the support that was received, FBC was able to provide 34,274,242lbs of additional food beyond their annual plan as well as $97,988,180 in funds to food banks for PPE, food purchasing/sharing and operational support. 

The essential support provided ensured that food banks could continue their work and overcome these new challenges.  

Lori McRitchie from the Airdrie Food bank tells us how they were able to change the way they operate “We moved to a drive-thru hamper pickup. We adapted things in our pantry area. We did everything to make it safe. We had masks at the door and hand sanitizers, and we came up with new ways to do drop-offs. For the seniors that would not leave their homes, we provided them with a delivery service. If we did not have the support of our communities, I am not sure what we would have done.”

This also helped provide an abundant amount of nutritious food. 

Rachel Dixon from Feed Ontario explains how much this support meant “The fact that so many businesses and people stepped up to support us has been incredible. We would not have been able to create our emergency food box program and deliver our nutritious pre-packed food hampers without this support. People really care and they really want to support their communities. I’ve seen the food banks who just want to say ‘Thank you to everyone who supported us’. That support has brought so much joy”. 

The support of many Canadians across the country coming to help those in need has been incredible. 

“If there’s one positive outcome from the pandemic, I think it’s the fact that we’ve realized just how much we can get done when we all come together as one. Together we’ve adapted, we’ve overcome, and together we’ll continue to support our community the best way we can.” Says Hailey Helset, Agency/Depot Engagement Manager at Edmonton’s Food Bank. 

The crisis isn’t over yet, but the incredible support has been felt across all food banks. 

Laurie O’Connor from Saskatoon Food Bank said it best “That support felt like an entire community reaching out and putting their arms around us, and for that we just want to say Thank You”.

You can read more about the COVID-19 Response Fund’s impact by clicking here.