Canada’s food banks faced a second pandemic-era Thanksgiving are relying on COVID-friendly charity events to keep non-perishables running at a time of year that’s critical to their operations.
Neil Hetherington, CEO of Toronto-based Daily Bread Food Bank, said the fourth wave of the pandemic has thrown the kibosh into the massive, in-person food drives usually held at Thanksgiving are essential to keeping the doors open.
“Demand doesn’t increase over Thanksgiving, but our supply changes between Thanksgiving and the holiday season and allows us to plan for next year,” Hetherington said. “So we need to get the food right now which we will distribute in the coming quarters.”
To do this, Daily Bread turned to the drive-thru model, which saw cars and vans drop off canned and boxed food.
Hetherington said he hopes the event will give his organization the donations he needs, but it’s hard to replicate the joy of his usual Thanksgiving food sorting event.
“One of the things I love about the public dining type is that during the day you have literally a thousand people come to a huge warehouse and do well,” he said. “And they’re meeting new people, and they’re all for one central purpose, which is the mission of making sure no one goes hungry.”
This mission is even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the demand for services at food banks is skyrocketing.
Hetherington said that before the pandemic, Daily Bread saw about 60,000 customers each month.
That number has doubled in the 19 months since the pandemic began.
“Some months are a little better than others, but we are seeing a steady increase in the number of people who have to turn to food banks,” he said. “And sadly, our forecast for the next two years is not optimistic.”
As for government support for those affected by the pandemic, he said, the food bank expects more people to rely on it.
The same thing happened after the 2008 recession, he said, when there was a demand to return to normalcy by 2011.
Rachel Dixon, development director for Feed Ontario, a group of hunger-relief organizations, said demand is particularly worrying as financial donations have slowed.
“As the pandemic continues, I think we are all a little tired of the pandemic,” she said. “We’re also looking at some of that game in charities.
“A lot of the gifts we received last year have not been replicated, which means that as we head into another big season, a lot of food banks are deeply concerned about what this means for their financial resources. “
She said that in addition to the drive-thru model, some members of Feed Ontario have partnered with grocery stores to allow people to donate food from where they shop.
Dixon said, “It’s really going to be a big change in how food banks are operating, but it’s also getting creative that they can still work with communities to make sure they have the resources and their needs,” Dixon said. Shelves are stocked.”