Parkdale Food Centre forced to close doors as demand mounts

Parkdale Food Centre forced to close doors as demand mounts

One of Ottawa's busiest food banks has been forced to close temporarily, just as the demand for its services is spiking amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Parkdale Food Centre announced Wednesday it's closing for a week after a staff member became ill. The person doesn't have a fever and isn't thought to have COVID-19, but has been placed in quarantine on the advice of Ottawa Public Health.

Executive director Karen Secord said last week the centre doubled the amount of food it handed out to people in need.


"People have been calling us from from everywhere," Secord said. "We would normally give out three to five days' worth of food, and we doubled that to 10 because we wanted to people to feel secure."

She said the temporary shutdown comes just as staff were beginning to feel overwhelmed.

"Our staff expressed that they were anxious and that they really felt that they needed to take a little bit of a break," Secord said.

The Parkdale Food Centre's partners, including the Ottawa Food Bank, are continuing to distribute food during the closure.

Jean Delisle/CBC

Mounting pressure

Even when the centre reopens, Secord worries about keeping up with the growing demand as more and more people find themselves out of work during the coronavirus crisis.

"Now we're also getting people who are losing their jobs and are only getting 55 per cent of their income, and so now they're coming to food banks, too. And so I don't think there has been enough attention paid to what we're being asked to do," she said.

The Ottawa Food Bank reported an increase in demand of between 20 and 30 per cent last week. Its CEO worries that demand will only grow as the situation worsens. 

Matthew Kupfer/CBC

"We know that the economy is shedding jobs at an incredible pace," Michael Maidment said.

"We expect that that number is going to continue to rise this week and the following week and the weeks to come. So it certainly is putting a lot of pressure on our system."

Long road ahead

Because of new social distancing rules, the Ottawa Food Bank is now offering prepared hampers rather than letting clients "shop."

Adding to the pressure, some volunteers, including many seniors, have had to bow out due to increasing fears about the illness, though Maidment said others, including people who have been laid off, have stepped in to help.

WATCH: Ottawa food banks see increased need during COVID-19 pandemic

Food donations have also declined since the pandemic began. Maidment believes that's because of a lack of some goods, and because families who would normally donate are now focusing on their own needs. 

He said cash donations would help most right now as the city, the country and the whole world settles in for what is shaping up to be a protracted crisis.

"I think that this will be a marathon, not a sprint," Maidment said. "The initial two weeks that we talked about self-isolating and increasing social distancing, that message is now turning into a longer period of time."