Toronto food bank 'desperately' calls for donations after summer of low donations, high demand

Food banks in Toronto say they’re struggling to keep food on the shelves due to a recent spike in demand coupled with a decline in donations.

Daily Bread Food Bank says demand typically rises by 20% during the summer

Jenni Feheley, lay pastor at St. Michael and All Angels church, made a plea for donations last week after the church's food bank was nearly empty. (Nick Boisvert/CBC)

Food banks in Toronto say they're struggling to keep food on the shelves due to a recent spike in demand coupled with a decline in donations.

The situation became so dire that a community food bank in midtown Toronto announced it was "desperately calling for donations" after it nearly ran out of food last week.

"People don't stop eating in the summer," said Jenni Feheley, who runs the Beeton Cupboard food bank at St. Michael and All Angels Church.

"When we're sitting on a patio … it's harder to remember that other people are struggling."

The church's operation is one of many small-scale, community-run food banks in the city. It typically serves up to 30 people and families per week. This summer, serving those clients has been difficult due to dwindling donations and higher demand. 

Those struggles peaked in late August, when the food bank's supply was reduced to just two baskets of food.

The Beeton Cupboard food bank's supply was reduced to just two baskets after a summer of low donations and high demand. (St. Michael and All Angels Church)

Feheley and the church made their plea for help on a community Facebook page soon after and she said the donations began flooding in. She estimated that donations jumped by around 70 per cent.

"It was important and I think it really hit home," said Arielle Holden, who lives in the area but does not attend the church.

She dropped off a few bags of groceries she purchased with her children after seeing the call for help. Holden said people are typically focused on summer vacations or getting their kids ready for school at this time of year, but the desire to help out is still strong.

"It was just the right time and the right message," Holden added.

Even after serving its clients on a weekday morning, shelves in the church's modest basement storage room were still full.

"I see a can of tuna and I see love, because I see the support that people are offering to each other," Fehely said.

Struggles in the summer

Toronto's Daily Bread Food Bank, the largest in Canada, said demand during the summer increases by around 20 per cent, while donations decrease by around the same amount.

"The summertime for food banks all across the city is the most difficult time, primarily because people don't think about food banks around this time, they're on summer vacation," said Neil Hetherington, Daily Bread CEO.

Arielle Holden dropped off bags of food and school lunch supplies after hearing the food bank was running low. (Nick Boisvert/CBC)

The peak donation season, Hetherington said, typically begins around Thanksgiving and extends into the holiday season, when charitable causes receive more attention from the public.

That cycle can make life difficult for families with children, he added, since those kids may not have access to school nutrition programs during the summer break.

"An individual who is perhaps working and has a couple of kids now has a couple of extra meals that they need to supply," Hetherington said.

Food banks concerned about rising demand

According to Feed Ontario, formerly the Ontario Association of Food Banks, 502,000 people access food banks in the province every year.

Overall usage has also risen by 14 per cent since 2008.

There are concerns that those numbers will continue to climb due to recent policy changes by the Ontario government.

The City of Toronto has warned that its school nutrition program, which is used by at least 200,000 students, could be affected by recent provincial cuts to public health services.

Toronto Public Health has warned that school nutrition programs may be in jeopardy after recent provincial budget cuts. (Hans Pennink/Associated Press)

If those programs are eliminated or reduced, Hetherington said the usual rise in demand during the summer may extend into the school year.

"I am concerned that demand that we see in the summer without the nutrition programs will be demand that we see all year round," he said.

Toronto estimates that cuts by the Ford government amount to $1 billion over the coming decade, though the province disputes that calculation.