Toronto's Daily Bread Food Bank collected 30,459 pounds of food at part of its Thanksgiving drive on Saturday, surpassing its goal for the day, and its CEO says Torontonians are answering the call for help.
But Neil Hetherington says the demand is great in the city and it's becoming greater. The number of people experiencing food security has skyrocketed in Toronto during the COVID-19 pandemic, doubling at times. He said need is growing as the cost of food increases, inflation rises and incomes remain stagnant.
On Saturday, however, Toronto responded to the food bank's pandemic appeal.
"I was thrilled that we hit the goal that we had set out. Hundreds of families came by and dropped off food," Hetherington said on Sunday.
"My general feeling is that's a wonderful outward expression that Torontonians have that too many are going food insecure, and this Thanksgiving, they want to do something about that."
For five hours, residents lined up in their vehicles to drop off non-perishable food at the food bank's Etobicoke distribution centre, 191 New Toronto St. Volunteers unloaded donations in cans and boxes directly from vehicles. The goal was 30,000 pounds of food.
Hetherington said people responded to the food bank's request to drop off items high in protein, including tuna, beans and peanut butter.
The food bank distributes 60,000 pounds of food every day to Toronto.
Hetherington said Daily Bread Food Bank is continuing to see a rise in the number of client visits. Roughly 60,000 people went to the food bank each month before the pandemic. That number reached a high of 124,500 client visits in June, he said.
In the year before that pandemic swept Toronto, there were close to 1 million visits to food banks in the city. At the current rate, food bank visits are expected to reach 1.4 million by the end of this year, a number that would be the highest recorded in the city's history.
"We see the number continuously rising," Hetherington said. "With eviction moratoriums ending, with CRB ending, I am concerned about what will happen with the number of people that need to turn to food banks."
The Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB) is set to end this month and the moratorium on residential evictions in Ontario ended on June 2, 2021. Oct. 23 is the application deadline for the last two-week payment of the CRB.
The food bank is hoping to collect 284,000 pounds of food from the community through its Thanksgiving drive by Oct. 31. Donations are being accepted at fire halls. In addition to donations from the community, the food bank buys food and picks up food from farms.
New faces appeared at food bank during pandemic
The food bank saw many new faces during the COVID-19 pandemic, he added. They include single people, post-secondary students and families.
According to the food bank, clients make a median income of $892 per month, less than half of the monthly income required to have a basic standard of living. It says one in five people in Toronto are food insecure, and nearly one in three food bank visits are children and young people.
Hetherington said people who go to the food bank include people who may have lost employment, or who are unable to make ends meet due to the precariousness of their employment. Fifty per cent of food bank users have post-secondary degrees. The difference between those who receive and those who give is income, he added.
"The people who are giving are individuals who fundamentally believe that the right to food needs to be in place for every single person," he said.
Hetherington is calling for three things to improve food insecurity in Toronto: affordable housing needs to be built; governments need to talk about providing basic income; and people need to lobby for decent pathways to employment.
Canada has over 61,000 food charities, report finds
A new report by Second Harvest, entitled Canada's Invisible Food Network, has found that there were more than 61,000 non-government organizations that provided food at no or low cost to people in need in 2019. In comparison, there were 15,344 grocery stores in Canada in 2019.
In Ontario, there were 21,502 charitable food organizations in 2019, compared to 5,368 grocery stores. Second Harvest says the organizations provided food to an estimated 1,878,225 people.
Value Chain Management International, a research firm, did the research.
Lori Nikkel, CEO of Second Harvest, said the national number of charitable food organizations is shocking. Second Harvest describes itself Canada's largest food rescue organization and an expert in perishable food recovery. The food it recovers is redirected to charity and non-profit organizations, ensuring people have access to the healthy food they need.
"There are so many places, charities, non-profits, that are supporting people with food at either low or no cost and they just are not known about. They don't belong to a major network of any kind. They are smaller, volunteer-driven. But they are everywhere across the country," she said.
"And the reason we did this research was really to understand, where are they, so we could map them out and make sure we could get as much food to them as possible. For us, we knew there were a lot of charities and non-profits organizations doing this work, but we were shocked there were over 61,000 of them."
Nikkel said there are so many food charities because there are a lot of "great Canadians" who want to help out — "they see a gap and they fill it" — but they also exist because Canada has many societal issues.
"The gap between rich and poor continues to grow. We have a lot of unemployment and underemployment. We have an income problem, a housing problem, an affordable daycare problem," she said.
"The bottom line is, people should be able to get their food from their grocery store because they have enough money in their pocket, or their wallet, or their purse to go to purchase the food they need for themselves and their family."