The Logistics of Being there for Canadian Communities in Need

The pandemic has taken a toll on many food banks. In many markets, the need for food increased, and some food banks wondered if they would be able to keep their doors open. For Lisa Wernham, Director of National Food Sharing at Food Banks Canada, the logistics around how to increase distribution to food banks requiring help, quickly became a pressing need. Fortunately for Lisa, she had a great team she could rely on. 

“We are responsible for the movement of food at Food Banks Canada. This is something we do on a regular basis. We share the food among the provincial associations, and it is then flowed down to local food banks. There are several channels for acquiring food, such as large donations from manufacturers, agriculture, and retailers (which we facilitate for the food banks), as well as food purchasing. When the pandemic hit last March, our team completely pivoted. The need for food increased, because of the pressures on the supply chain and donations started flowing in from across the country. Our team was very stretched, and thankfully, everyone stepped up to the challenge. For the last 12 months, the team has pitched in whenever and wherever there has been a need, everyone doing many different jobs scoped outside of their day-to-day responsibilities Some were executing purchasing orders, others have been paying invoices, managing deliveries, and organizing food shipments to every province and territory across Canada”. 

Food Banks Canada always strives to provide a high volume of good quality food for the network and their clients. However, we never dreamt of being able to purchase $44 million worth of food in 2020. 

“Thanks to the generosity of Canadians, we were able to purchase over $44 million worth of quality food last year, which is WAY more than our typical annual budget of $250,000. These funds arrived at a critical time when food banks were seeing significant interruptions to the supply chain due to COVID-19 and a downturn in volunteers.  We collaborated with food banks across Canada and came up with a shopping list of nutritional products needed to create a 7-day pre-packed hamper of food that could easily be distributed to their clients. We worked with the Rogers Communications, the Jays Care Foundation and the Blue Jays team at the Rogers Centre, and I am proud to say that together we assembled 390,000 pre-packed emergency food hampers with over 8,000,000 meals that went out across Canada. But it did not stop there. We then forged a relationship with Dairy Farmers of Canada, which helped purchase much needed dairy and were able to extend a deep partnership with the Egg Farmers of Canada to double the amount of their already donation of eggs for every province and Territory”. 

She recalls the moving the story of one specific food bank from the North. 

“We provided food banks in the Territories with funds to purchase their dairy products directly, so they could spend it on their most urgently needed items. One food bank asked, “Can we use it to buy cheese?”. They told me that cheese is considered a luxury, and many of their clients would only have had cheese on very special occasions. Something we take for granted in the south.  They were thrilled to be able to purchase a nutritious product that was so precious in their area.  

I am so proud that we can provide such good quality food for Canadians in need. Something else that I would like to mention was our recent purchase of $1.2 million worth of halal meat. There are some specific ethnic needs that are hard to come by through donations, and this provided us with a unique opportunity to fill that need, and for that I want to say Thank You!”. 

The generosity of Canadians from coast to coast also helped in many other ways that were never possible before.  

“One barrier that food banks deal with is storage capacity. Thanks to the support we received from across Canada during the pandemic, many food banks were able to expand their storage capacity through the purchase of fridges and freezers, which enables them to provide increased amounts of nutritious, perishable products for the families they serve. This expanded capacity will benefit food banks and their clients for many years to come”. 

Lisa learned a lot in 2020, and there is a lot more work to be done, but she continues to be inspired by food banks and their clients. 

“Throughout the pandemic we gained a much better understanding of the logistical intricacies of the food bank network. This will make it easier to support them in the future. We are also focusing on the relationships we were able to build during the pandemic, whether it be the dairy farmers, egg farmers and others, we want to talk to them about ongoing support, and continuing to be there for those in need. What keeps me going is the ability to provide better quality food, but also, when I see the work that the food banks do, it’s very inspiring… There is a perception that people are lifelong food banks clients, and some are, for various reasons including disability, but for many it is because there are mitigating circumstances and things they cannot control in their lives. The local food bank is an emergency-stop where people can turn in times of need. It could be any one of us at any time. Food banks are about more than just giving food, food banks help improve lives”.