Canadian food banks facing a second Thanksgiving in the pandemic era are hosting COVID-friendly donation events so that non-perishable goods keep arriving at a time of year that is critical to their operations.
The fourth wave of the pandemic has put the brakes on the large-scale in-person food drives that typically take place on Thanksgiving, which are necessary to keep doors open throughout the year, said Neil Hetherington, executive director of the Daily Bread. Food Bank, based in Toronto.
“Demand doesn’t increase over Thanksgiving, but between Thanksgiving and the holiday season is when our supply changes and allows us to plan for next year,” Hetherington said. “So now we need to bring in the food that we will distribute in the next few quarters.”
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To do that, Daily Bread switched to a drive-thru model that saw cars and trucks lining up to drop off canned and boxed food.
Hetherington said she was hopeful the event will bring in the donations her organization needs, but that the joy of her regular Thanksgiving food grading event is hard to replicate.
“One of the things that I love about the public food type is that you literally have a thousand people in the course of the day who walk into a giant warehouse and do good,” he said. “And they are meeting new people, and they are all there with one central purpose, which is the mission to make sure no one goes hungry.”
That mission is even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic, when demand for food bank services has exploded.
Hetherington said that before the pandemic, Daily Bread received about 60,000 customers each month.
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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 upward trend in the number of people who have to turn to food banks,” he said. “And sadly, our forecast is not optimistic for the next two years.”
As government support for those affected by the pandemic declines, he said, the food bank expects more people to rely on it.
The same thing happened after the 2008 recession, he noted, when it took until 2011 for demand to return to normal.
Rachel Dixon, director of development for Feed Ontario, a collective of organizations fighting hunger, said the demand is particularly concerning because financial donations have slowed.
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“As the pandemic has continued, I think we’ve all gotten a little tired of the pandemic,” he said. “We are also seeing that reflected in some of the donations.
“Many of those first-time gifts that we received last year have not been repeated, which means that as we move into another great season, many food banks are quite concerned about what that means for their financial resources.”
He said that in addition to the drive-thru model, some of the Feed Ontario members have partnered with grocery stores so that people can donate food wherever they shop.
“It has really meant a huge change in the way that food banks operate, but it has also been creative in the ways that they can still work with communities to make sure they have resources and their shelves are stocked,” Dixon said.
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