Canada

Helping put food on Canada’s table

Donations food, vegetables, bread, pasta, canned food, and medical protective mask on wooden background. Help of generous people. Donate concept. Flat lay, copy space

When food banks were first introduced to the public back in the 1980s, the idea was to provide much-needed but temporary assistance during recessionary times. And they were originally set up to provide short-term relief to those who had lost their jobs due to the recession.

The role of the community food bank has since grown and evolved to become a permanent fixture in today’s society. Recent research reveals that as of today, more than 3,000 food banks and community agencies come together to serve the most vulnerable. Last year those in need made 1.1 million visits to these organizations in one month alone, according to the HungerCount report – and these figures are growing.

According to Stats Canada (statscan.gc.ca) food insecurity (the inability to access sufficient quantity or variety of food due to financial issues) is impacting one in five Canadian families today.

And, although few studies have examined food insecurity in the context of stressful events, Stats Canada notes that since mid-March of last year, “the pandemic … has abruptly and profoundly impacted the lives of Canadians, with millions experiencing job losses or reduced work hours,” which trickles down into every facet of the Canadian life – including putting food on the table.

According to the Canadian Institute of Food Safety, food insecurity is on the rise across the nation, and recent studies show it has been growing due to the pandemic. Foodsafety.ca reports on a Dalhousie University survey that shows food security among Canadians “is becoming a big concern. The survey suggests that 55% of Canadians are concerned about food security — much more than before the COVID-19 pandemic began.”

The news is sobering, and a new report just released by the Food Banks Canada (foodbankscanada.ca) shows just how critical the subject of food insecurity has become during the current COVID-19 crisis.

But it also revealed that, when the going gets tough – the tough get going, as the report also shows how Canadians came together in record numbers to help food banks across Canada help those in need during the first year of the pandemic.

The numbers are staggering as the report reveals that 34.3 million pounds of food have been delivered to over 4,700 communities across the nation — and providing a record $98 million in funding to help community organizations continue to be there for those in need during the pandemic.

“When the pandemic struck, Canada’s food banks were tested like never before, facing an ever-changing  series of challenging circumstances,” said Chris Hatch, Food Banks Canada’s CEO, in a recent release, adding that “hundreds of thousands of Canadians, small and large national businesses, private and family foundations and government helped us continue our work.”

Tania Little.
Tania Little. Photo by handout /Food Banks of Canada

We recently asked Tania Little, chief development and partnerships officer for the Food Banks Canada how exactly has the pandemic impacted on usage: “There have been multiple impacts, from dramatic drops in volunteers to the fact that 50% of food banks have seen huge increases in demand, mostly in urban centres with populations of over 100,000 people, like Vancouver, Calgary, the GTA, Montreal, Halifax, and in Canada’s North, where food insecurity is disproportionately higher than the rest of Canada.”

Is there a specific demographic who is using foodbanks now more than ever? “Anyone living in unexpected poverty may need to use a food bank. The pandemic has left no demographic untouched.”

Little pointed out that “one out of eight people who rely on food banks are employed while 34% of people food banks serve are children.” Sadly, but not surprising, some sectors of the food industry, such as food services and restaurants “have been more dramatically affected economically by the pandemic,” making those people the ones now in need of food banks. As well, even some front-line workers “are in a position to have to use a food bank for the first time,” says Little.

Hatch says you can “count on Canada” to step up to the plate when the call went out for help: “When 65% of the nation’s food banks faced severe food shortages, partnerships with Canadian farmers, food companies, private and corporate donors and the Federal Government Surplus Food Rescue Program were essential to provide for the already existing 1.1 million visits to Canadian food banks every month AND for higher numbers of new clients, due to the pandemic.” This included the Dairy Farmers of Canada, as well as other food corporations.

By The Numbers

COVID-19 restrictions have meant that food banks have had to switch from “grocery store shopping” formats  to hampers, home delivery and drive-thrus — “67% of food banks have pivoted to introduce home delivery and 48% introduced food hamper models.”

– 390,000 hampers were distributed, about 7.8 million pounds of food

– 22% of food banks introduced drive and walk thru services and pop-ups

How do people access a food bank today? Canadians can use the food bank finder at foodbankscanada.ca  and call the food bank closest to you to find out the easiest access.

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