Montreal-area food banks struggle to meet demand, call for summer volunteers

Montreal-area food banks have been in overdrive since Quebec began shutting down the economy back in March and now they are sounding the alarm — volunteers are needed this summer as demand isn't slowing down.

Moisson Montréal distributed 1.3 million kilograms of food last month, a 40% increase

Back in December 2019, Moisson Montréal was bustling with activity as volunteers worked to distribute food to local organizations. Nowadays, the demand is even higher. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Montreal-area food banks have been in overdrive since Quebec began shutting down the economy back in March and now they are sounding the alarm — volunteers are needed this summer as demand isn't slowing down.

Moisson Montréal, the city's largest food bank which stocks the shelves of some 250 local organizations, distributed 30 per cent more food in April and May than the same time last year.

Demand went up another 10 per cent in June.

That means Moisson Montréal delivered more than 1.3 million kilograms of food to community groups this June, compared to 905,000 kilograms in June 2019. 

Over the last three months, Moisson Montréal has given out $29 million in food — $8 million more than this time last year.

Now, vacation season is getting underway and that's usually when volunteers stop showing up to help, said the organization's director, Richard Daneau. 

"We're concerned about the fact that we may lack some volunteers in the coming weeks," he said.

Daneau is asking anybody who is staying in the area this summer to volunteer because help is needed to ensure food continues to be distributed to local organizations.

Depot in NDG sees surge in demand

The Depot Community Food Centre in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce is reporting a 30 to 50 per cent increase in requests over the last three months.

The situation has been made even more difficult by the need to keep volunteers, staff and clients at a safe distance from each other because of COVID-19. 

The organization moved into the Doug Harvey Arena on May 1 and has been operating out of the facility ever since, delivering emergency food baskets door to door.

Daniel Rotman, executive director of the Depot Community Food Centre, says demand is way up for emergency food relief. (Matt D'Amours/CBC)

"It's full every day," said the Depot's executive director, Daniel Rotman. "When COVID first struck, we saw an almost doubling of requests for food baskets. That's since calmed down a little bit."

Some 3,000 new clients have signed up to receive emergency food relief, he said. Normally, the Depot serves about 4,500 people per year.

"The demand continues to be very high," Rotman said.

At the Depot, Rotman said they've already spent their annual food budget and are now desperately seeking financial donations.

'Big uncertainties' ahead

Daneau said those seeking help vary widely. Organizations are seeing couples who both lost their jobs, young people who are living off the federal emergency response benefit program and seniors who are staying home during the pandemic.

"How long will it last? Will demand continue to grow? These are the big uncertainties," said Daneau.

As far as he can tell, it's not going to get better any time soon given the COVID-19 situation and the economic downturn it has caused, he said.

"I don't want to play the prophet of doom, but we have to admit that this will not disappear next month," Daneau said.

However, it's not all grim. Food donations have gone up in recent weeks.

"We suspect that the additional food available is coming mostly from closed hotels and closed restaurants for example," he said.

With files from Radio-Canada and CBC's Matt D'Amours

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