In March 2022, Food Banks Canada reported that there were almost 1.5 million visits to food banks across the country, marking the highest March usage ever recorded by the organization. With rising food costs due to inflation and the end of many pandemic-related assistances, there is greater pressure on food banks to serve those in need. From April 2021 to April 2022, Statistics Canada reported that there was almost a 10 percent increase in food prices. This holiday season, with more Canadians turning to food banks for support, the need for food donations and food fundraising initiatives is more needed than ever.
Henry Chiu is the development and marketing director at the North York Harvest Food Bank in Toronto. The food bank is one of 40 agencies and programs that all work together to serve more than 20,000 people a month. Chiu says that his organization has been seeing an increase in food bank usage over the past few years.
“The interesting thing is we see more increases in food drives but the amount of food donations, quantity-wise, has gone down,” Chiu said.
The most needed items at the food bank are cooking oil, canned tomatoes, canned fish, canned beans or lentils, and rice or pasta. These items are important, not only because some are expensive to purchase, but also because they represent culturally and religiously appropriate food options for some clients.
Chiu explains that North York Harvest tends to receive more support and donations at this time, as people are feeling more philanthropic.
“One of our clients actually mentioned, ‘People talk about turkey or ham when celebrating Christmas. I’m just happy that I’m getting more food coming to North York Harvest,’” Chiu said.
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At the Southern Kings and Queens Food Bank in Montague, P.E.I., manager Norma Dingwell explains that the food bank’s clients are very grateful during the holiday season to receive any help. The food bank usually serves over 200 people a week, but this year, that number has jumped by approximately 50 percent.
The food bank is continuously in need of toiletries such as shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, and toothbrushes but during the holiday season, foods like chicken, ham, and turkey are needed too. Dingwell explains that the food bank tries to provide clients with the essentials they need during the holiday season, but meats are still needed items.
“We do a little hamper of all the vegetables, potatoes, stuffing, and cranberry sauce,” Dingwell said.
More importantly, Dingwell explains that the friendly atmosphere of the volunteer-run food bank makes it a welcoming place for people to turn to during the holiday season.
“We get comments from our clients constantly that they don’t feel embarrassed coming here because our volunteers are just wonderful. Our clients really appreciate that,” Dingwell said.
In Langford, B.C., the Goldstream Food Bank has also seen a significant increase in food bank usage — a 50 percent jump since last year, says the food bank’s president, Gayle Ireland.
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The food bank typically serves about 1,100 people monthly and is preparing to serve approximately 800 households this holiday season.
While the food bank welcomes any canned, non-perishable food donations, mandarin oranges are always a nice addition so that the Christmas hampers the organization puts together can follow a holiday tradition.
Ireland explains that this year has been particularly difficult considering food shortages in stores nationwide.
“It’s been very difficult this year, with the way things are in the world, to procure the food we need to pack in the Christmas hampers,” Ireland said. “In any grocery store, there’s certain sections that are just depleted,” she adds.
Despite the challenges facing food banks, Ireland emphasizes that seeing the reactions of those in need makes everything worth it.
“They’re very grateful. They’re very relieved. We get a lot of tears. We get a lot of smiles,” Ireland said.
Russul Sahib is a writer whose work has focused on a variety of social issues, as featured in Broadview Magazine, THIS Magazine, and The Newcomer Magazine.
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