Local food banks prepare for holidays and winter months as need grows

Food banks in Waterloo region, Guelph and Stratford are on the other side of their Thanksgiving food drives and fundraisers where for many, donations were down. But the food banks say they're expecting to see more people in need of food in the coming months.

Donations are down due to COVID-19 and food banks are anticipating an increase in need

Donations from the public, like those made at grocery stores or company food drives, are placed in large cardboard bins, then sorted and stored in the warehouse at The Food Bank of Waterloo Region. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

As food banks in Waterloo region and Guelph prepare for the holiday season, they rely on the donations that were collected through the fall and Thanksgiving food drives.

This year, the overall donations have been down, says Pauline Cripps, administrator with the Guelph Food Bank.

This year, the food bank collected a third of its 90,000 pounds of food target during its Thanksgiving food drive.

"[The spring] food drive was basically a write-off. We used a lot of our reserved stock to get us through the summer, which is typically our slower months and so the Thanksgiving food dive, we were definitely counting on," Cripps told CBC News.

"We rely on school fundraiser and food drives as well as businesses and with the pandemic starting, all of a sudden all of the schools and all of the businesses were shut down and so a lot of those bins that were out in the community were no longer out there."

The food bank collected just over 60,000 pounds of food recently thanks to the overwhelming generosity of her community, Cripps said, adding that even though it may be tight in the weeks ahead, she believes the community will come through.

"Guelph has never let us down. We live in an incredibly generous community," she said.

Cripps adds the Guelph Food Bank is currently in need of non-perishable food items like canned veggies, soups, canned meats and canned pasta.

Stratford House of Blessing

Theresa McMurray, executive director of House of Blessing in Stratford, said donations have also been down and this year's Thanksgiving food drive didn't go as they had hoped. 

She said they launched a virtual food drive and asked the community to drop off donations at their local grocery stores or at House of Blessing, but McMurray said it didn't have the same impact.

"I think people needed to see us on site and it was difficult," she said.

The food bank also had to cancel its annual Empty Bowls fundraiser dinner due to COVID-19. The fundraiser brought in $30,000 from tickets, auction sales and business sponsorships in 2019.

McMurray said even though they have received an extra 30,000 pounds of food donations this year — thanks to some additional help from Food Banks Canada and Feed Ontario — she said most of that extra food has come and gone and  House of Blessing will be in need of extra donations over the holidays to help them through to their next food drive.

"Right now, we do have what we need to pass on to our neighbours in need, but at Christmas time, this is where we are asking people to give so it gets us through our next food drive, which will be in the spring," she said.

"Whatever comes in from this point forward will get us through the January, February, March and April months."

'Christmas will look different this year'

Meanwhile, Dianne McLeod, executive director with the Cambridge Self Help Food Bank, said the food bank collected more donations during this year's Thanksgiving food drive than last year and staff are now getting ready to help an additional 400 families over the holidays.

"Christmas will look different this year," she said.

McLeod said staff and volunteers used to gather over the holidays to pack food hampers at the food bank, but due to COVID-19 regulations, staff decided to switch things up.

"Our plans are to provide a turkey and a gift card to each family, so that means that we will have to do a lot of fundraising and we're going to launch a gift card drive," she said. McLeod said they hope to raise enough to help 1,500 families this holiday.

Anticipated increase of need over the holidays

She said the food bank has been serving more people than before this year due to COVID-19. Between March and October, McLeod said 10,000 food hampers went out, the same number of hampers that were distributed in all of 2019.

 McLeod said they're seeing an increase in requests for services from young families and single people.

Wendi Campbell, chief executive director of The Food Bank of Waterloo Region said staff are anticipating a 30 per cent increase in use over the holidays.

"We are starting to see a small increase in requests for services over all in the last few weeks," she said, adding the food bank has so far distributed 2.3 million pounds of food since the middle of March.

"Initially in the first wave, we did not see a dramatic increase but we did see a 30 per cent increase in the number of new households who were accessing assistance throughout the region as compared to the same time last year."

Cripps said the Guelph Food bank is also seeing an uptick in the number of people accessing services and staff are now making plans to make sure they have enough to continue to distribute hampers over the holidays.

Campbell said monetary donations will go a long way over the coming weeks as it gives staff the flexibility to purchase what the food bank needs and when they need it.


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