Food banks are renewing calls for long-term solutions to food insecurity as they prepare for a busy holiday season, with the latest numbers showing demand is at an all time high.
The Daily Bread Food Bank saw a record month in November with over 208,100 client visits — more than triple what it used to be before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. And by the end of December, the organization estimates the number of new clients accessing food bank services for the first time will reach over 80,000 — figures the charity deems “crisis levels.”
“I can’t articulate clearly enough the crisis that we are in,” said Neil Hetherington, the CEO of the Daily Bread Food Bank.
“We are going to do what we can now, and advocate for change for the future, which I’m hopeful for in 2023.”
With the cost of food expected to rise by five per cent next year, Hetherington says it’s “unsustainable” for food banks to continue operating at the levels they are now. Alongside donations, the bank is calling for people to continue to press government for long-term solutions on things like affordable housing and income security.
“Ultimately, we need to make sure that we are providing income supports and decent, affordable housing across the country so that no one needs to turn to a food bank,” said Hetherington.
What it means to volunteer, donate
But in the meantime, volunteers are still needed to help package food and run food drives. Feed the Need in Durham expects to dole out about two million pounds of food this year to its over 60 different food relief organizations in the community, which houses over 700,000 people.
With demand showing no signs of slowing, the organization could probably do more, says Leanne Rorabeck, the director of development and communications for the organization.
“We cannot exist without the help of our volunteers,” said Rorabeck.
“The need won’t go away after the holidays. And so we hope that everybody will continue to rally around us as a community and continue to support us.”
Aaron Brighton is one of them. He and a group of Tesla car enthusiasts and owners in the GTA brought donations Saturday to the Sounds of the Season event in Pickering put on by CBC and Feed the Need in Durham.
“I’m glad that we can help out, it’s great to see so many people here,” said Brighton.
Back in Toronto, Michael Albry could be found with almost 200 volunteers at Daily Bread helping to package food for the holiday season.
He started volunteering with the food bank in January and started using its services shortly after, when debts started piling up and his support from Ontario Works wasn’t enough to pay for his transportation to the food bank anymore.
While the transition was something he called “shameful” at the beginning, that changed when he learned he wasn’t the only volunteer relying on the bank’s services.
“Volunteering here is a gift. It’s something that’s helped me on my way,” said Albry.
Fariba Arkan, a Toronto realtor, helped collect non-perishable donations from her local community for Daily Bread. She hosted a couple of open houses as a way to mingle with friends and clients after two years of the pandemic, and asked each guest to bring non-perishable donations instead of a hostess gift.
“I said, this can be my mission for this holiday season and going forward,” said Arkan.
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