Local food banks prepare for 'sharp' increase in demand due to COVID-19

Local food banks scramble to gather more resources before expected increase in demand.

One agency anticipates it will see a 50 per cent increase in demand come April

At Hamilton Food Share's walk-in refrigerator, employee Gary McCarthy moves a skid of produce that will be delivered to a local food bank. (Leah Serafini/Food Share)

Though food banks and meal programs across the city have noticed an increase in demand since COVID-19, many say the worst is yet to come. 

"We are expecting that food banks are going to be hit with a massive demand," said Celeste Taylor, resource development manager of Food Share, adding that if the city's unemployment rate rises into the double digits there could be a "sharp" increase. 

In support of those in need, the city earmarked $50,000 in emergency funding last week to Hamilton Food Share — an organization that supplies resources to several local food agencies. According to Taylor, in a typical month, food agencies across the city support 13,000 people. 

Taylor said Food Share is collaborating with the city to change their service model to include delivery for people who have to stay at home. But for now, to support physical distancing, most food agencies are handing out pre-assembled food packages outside their centres and meal programs are using take-out containers. 

At Hamilton's Salvation Army, area director Dan Millar said they are allowing a limit of four people into the building by appointment only. In the last few weeks, Millar estimates they've seen a 10 to 15 per cent increase from the usual 2,000 families they service. 

In April, he says they expect 50 per cent more users. 

The Salvation Army is also providing delivery service to people in need. Their meal program through the men's hostel is still operating, but it is lunchtime only and taking place from their community response vehicle in the parking lot. 

Wesley Urban Ministries has also seen a significant increase in demand. Since last week, they served 200 more meals a day, bringing them up to a 3,500 weekly total. 

In an email, manager of resource development Andrea Buttars said they expect additional increases come April. 

Mission Services closed their East Hamilton location March 20 to "allow staff to focus effort, labour and funding" at the Good Food Centre on Wentworth Street North. Associate executive director Wendy Kennelly confirmed that they too have seen an increase, with 189 new households registering for food at the centre. 

"If people are losing their jobs that will force more people into the system," Kennelly said. 

The shelter has also started an emergency food assistance program fund and is working on a delivery service. 

Food banks 'need more help'

While Taylor said they aren't feeling the strain yet, the organization has had a noticeable spike in people "who are housebound, distressed, or who have a very complicated situation...and (they are) asking for help from Food Share or any one of our member agencies." 

Celeste Taylor says more is needed as the city's food banks gear up for a spike in demand. (Contributed)

Taylor said because their big food drives have been cancelled they do "need more help" from locals. But from what she's seen so far, Hamiltonians are rising to the occasion. 

One particular donation included $2,500 from healthcare workers at St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton. 

"Here's our healthcare people caring and doing what they can for the food bank clients," Taylor said. "To me that speaks to the really big, amazing heart of Hamilton." 

Food Share is still taking physical food donations, but with public health advice to remain indoors, Taylor said. Financial donations are also welcome. 


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