Toronto's food banks double down on safety in response to Omicron

·3 min read
Toronto's Daily Bread food bank has implemented additional safety measures for staff and volunteers during the ongoing surge in Omicron cases. The effort is to ensure that the food banks remain operational to serve those in need. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
Toronto's Daily Bread food bank has implemented additional safety measures for staff and volunteers during the ongoing surge in Omicron cases. The effort is to ensure that the food banks remain operational to serve those in need. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

Toronto's food banks have seen record numbers when it comes to demand since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Daily Bread food bank estimates it's had about 1.8 million visitors in 2021 alone. That's nearly double the 1 million they saw in 2019 and up from 1.4 million in 2020.

This increase in demand is why safety measures are so crucial during the current surge in COVID-19 cases, said Neil Hetherington, Daily Bread's CEO.

"If Daily Bread goes down for a week, there are 30,000 food bank visits that go unfulfilled," he told CBC Toronto. "So we need to do everything that we can to make sure that every staff member, every volunteer is as safe as possible."

Toronto's food banks have already been hit hard by the pandemic. Now, with the Omicron variant driving up demand during the busy holiday season, there are even more logistical challenges to overcome.

Challenges present before Omicron

Daily Bread is doing everything possible to make sure that staff and volunteers are safe, which in turn keeps those they serve safe and keeps the food bank operational, Hetherington said.

Additional measures put in place since the onset of Omicron include reducing the number of people present on-site, as well as providing testing and accommodation to those staff and volunteers who need to isolate during this time.

Ultimately, Hetherington feels the biggest challenges that food banks face have been present even before Omicron.

In addition to food and funding, he said, "we are asking that individuals consider advocating so that we can make sure that there are systemic changes made within all three levels of government to reduce poverty, to make sure that nobody needs a food bank."

He urged those concerned about food insecurity in their community to contact their elected officials.

Ivan Arsovski/CBC
Ivan Arsovski/CBC

In the meantime, there's at least one charitable organization in the city equipped to handle the current situation.

The Toronto Bike Brigade partners with food banks and other organizations to deliver fresh ingredients and meals to those all over the city.

Rachel Wang, one of the group's organizers, told CBC News that delivering by bike is the best way to do so safely right now.

"Delivering is actually quite safe in terms of, you know, you're outside, you're on your bike, you're not in a car with somebody else," she said.

The Bike Brigade has a small but dedicated team of winter riders who have gone the extra mile to make sure their deliveries are made, even in the most inclement weather.

The group, which was formed in the early days of the pandemic, knows the importance of keeping everyone safe, Wang said. They've become well-practised at low-contact or no-contact deliveries.

"Our pick ups and our drop offs have been largely built around surviving in the COVID-19 pandemic," she said. "We make sure that we're going in safely and ensuring that our volunteers feel comfortable."

This December, CBC Toronto's Sounds of the Season campaign has been raising money in support of local food banks. So far, you've generously donated just over $850,000 to those in need. If you'd like to donate you can find more information about the fundraiser here.

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