The Daily Bread Food Bank has cancelled its holiday food drive this year due to the COVID-19 lockdown in Toronto but it is appealing to the public to continue to donate items and to give in other ways.
Neil Hetherington, Daily Bread's CEO, told reporters on Tuesday that families need help more than ever in Toronto because of massive increases in food insecurity.
Hetherington said public health and safety concerns prompted the food bank to change its operations this holiday season. He said the food bank has to respect public health measures in place in Toronto and did not want to encourage people to gather in any way.
"We have had to make the difficult decision to cancel the 2020 holiday food drive events. A lot of thought and consideration went into this decision," he said at a news conference.
"But we are prioritizing the health and safety of our supporters, volunteers and staff, even if that means risking not achieving our food raising goals."
Hetherington said Daily Bread still hopes to raise 400,000 pounds of food, the equivalent of 17 tractor-trailer loads.
In addition, the food bank is also asking for $1 million in financial aid. He acknowledged that goal is ambitious.
"Despite the challenges, the food bank remains committed to ensuring everyone's right to food is realized this holiday season and beyond," he said.
Toronto residents can drop off food donations safely at local grocery stores or fire halls. The food bank will pick up the donations, he said.
Food that is suitable is anything that people would put on their own kitchen tables, he added. That includes food highly nutritious and high in protein, he said. Peanut butter, tuna, canned meats, pasta sauce — "these are the things that many of our families enjoy at this time of year," he said.
Residents can also place online orders from local grocery stores and have those orders delivered directly to Daily Bread at 191 New Toronto St., Toronto, ON, M8V 2E7.
Hetherington said residents can do the following:
Make a financial donation that will allow Daily Bread to buy food that it will not be able to collect from its holiday public drive. For every dollar donated, the food bank said it can provide one balanced meal for someone experiencing hunger.
Give the gift of food by buying from the food bank's online store. The "symbolic gift" in the name of a loved one can provide enough to feed a family of four or help a senior fill his or her cupboard.
Bring family and friends together "in the spirit of giving" and organize an online fundraiser in support of the food bank.
Advocate for systemic change to end the root cause of hunger, which is poverty. The food bank suggests the residents contact municipal, provincial and federal government officials to let them know that they want to see poverty and food insecurity eliminated in Toronto.
Hetherington said the cancellation of the holiday food drive means non-essential workers can continue to stay at home and venture out for only essential activities.
He added the food bank had already cancelled its "public food sort," which involves families sorting food in a parking lot, because of the pandemic.
WATCH | CBC Toronto's Dwight Drummond talks to Neil Hetherington about food insecurity:
Hetherington said the food bank had planned to hold a "contactless" food drive, similar to its Thanksgiving food drive in its receiving dock, where hundreds of cars pulled up and had food removed from their trunks, but decided such an event was too risky, given high case counts in Toronto.
"This cancellation, however, does not change the food insecurity of the hundreds of thousands in the city each day," he said.
Food bank visits 'spiked dramatically' during pandemic
Hetherington said food bank visits increased by five per cent in Toronto last year from previous year. Unstable employment, insufficient incomes and a lack of affordable housing have combined to create a food insecurity crisis, he said.
"COVID-19 has only exacerbated that crisis," he said. "And food bank visits have spiked dramatically."
Food bank visits have increased by 51 per cent this year, year over year. In September, the food bank saw more than 104,000 client visits, a number greater than it has ever seen before.
He said the food bank is delivering 52 per cent more food to Toronto this year, over 1.1 million pounds in the next four weeks alone.
During the holidays, the food bank depends on the community to meet its food and fundraising goals that will determine distribution in the following months.
He said December draws about 50 per cent of annual donations to the food bank.