Strained food banks low on food and money after storm

·3 min read
Last Thursday, Sandra Bruff and a team of four others got rid of spoiled or rotting milk, meat, eggs and produce at the Pavilion Food Bank.   (Avanthika Anand/CBC - image credit)
Last Thursday, Sandra Bruff and a team of four others got rid of spoiled or rotting milk, meat, eggs and produce at the Pavilion Food Bank. (Avanthika Anand/CBC - image credit)

Sandra Bruff was reduced to tears after realizing the Pavilion Food Bank's fridges and freezers would need to be emptied after seven days without power.

Last Thursday, she and a team of four others got rid of spoiled or rotting milk, meat, eggs and produce at the Greenboro-neighbourhood food bank.

"We had nothing left in the fridges and freezers," said Bruff, who chairs its board of directors.

"Absolutely nothing. We had to throw everything out."

Like many Ottawa neighbourhoods, Greenboro lost power for several days following the derecho storm that struck the city and other parts of Ontario and Quebec on May 21.

She said the food bank was unable to access a generator and could only provide visitors with gift cards during the first week of the power outages.

"It was heartbreaking," Bruff said.

Now she faces another dilemma: the cost of replacing the food.

Avanthika Anand/CBC)
Avanthika Anand/CBC)

Bruff said the spoiled food was worth about $8,000, but rising food costs means it'll cost upwards of $10,000 to restock those shelves.

"I've got four or five fridges that are still empty," she said.

The need to replenish their food supply is even more desperate, Bruff said, because the storm pushed demand to an all-time high.

Ottawa Food Bank doubled output in 1st week

While those food banks without power or a generator found their hands tied during the outage, other organizations came to the rescue.

At the Ottawa Food Bank, Chef Ric Allen-Watson prepared 14,000 meals in the first week of outages, double what he'd make typically.

The increased demand came from some of Ottawa's most vulnerable populations, who didn't know where to turn to for a hot meal.

"It was low income people that probably could barely make it from paycheck to paycheck," he said. "There were young families, newly immigrated to Canada. There were also many elderly people."

"But no matter who they were, they all had that look in their eyes that they were scared."

Food security in emergency planning

The Ottawa Food Bank said many member agencies were left in the same boat as the Pavilion Food Bank, having no power and little food.

CEO Rachael Wilson said her organization supplied organizations like the Pavilion Food Bank with over $80,000 worth of gift cards on top of "a significant amount of and non-perishable items that could be turned into a meal without needing to be heated."

But this help isn't sustainable in the long run, she said.

"Although there is an emergency response plan throughout the city and it works well, there isn't a consideration for food security in most of those plans, especially at the scale that we were seeing."

In emergencies like a derecho storm, people from all walks of life are affected by food shortages, she said.

"A situation like this especially affects those who are most vulnerable in our community."

The Ottawa Food Bank is now putting together its own emergency plan, according to Wilson.

Wilson said access to food is necessary for people's recovery following the storm. A lack of access to food can be detrimental to people's physical and mental health, she said, as well as their ability to survive an emergency situation.

"Food insecurity is so much bigger than just being hungry," she said.

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