Stockpiling a week's supply of food 'not an option' for many as Toronto sees increase in food bank use

With Toronto recording a seven per cent increase in food bank usage between 2018 and 2019, there are concerns that many people are simply not able to stockpile a week's supply of food in case of illness with coronavirus.

Some can’t heed health minister's call to stockpile food in case of COVID-19, Daily Bread Food Bank CEO says

Neil Hetherington, the CEO of the Daily Bread Food Bank, says the average food bank user has $7.83 a day to survive on after paying for housing. (Neil Hetherington)

Health officials have been engaged in a double-pronged approach to COVID-19 — working to stop the spread of the coronavirus, while also preparing a robust response plan in case containment fails.

Last week federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu suggested people should prepare as they would for a natural emergency such as a severe snowstorm — by setting aside a week's supply of food, medicine and other household supplies.

But with Toronto recording a seven-per-cent increase in food bank usage between 2018 and 2019, there are concerns that many people are simply not able to make that kind of preparation.

"Having a week's worth of food stockpiled, having a month's worth of food stockpiled is not an option for individuals who are making use of food banks," Neil Hetherington, the CEO of the Daily Bread Food Bank, told CBC News.  

"We know that the average food bank user has $7.83 a day, after paying for housing, to survive on. They are not in a position where they are able to save for that so they do need to come to the food bank.

"An individual who comes to a food bank, they can come once a week and they are provided about the equivalent of three days' worth of food to be that gap between what they can afford shopping in grocery stores and what they actually need for their families," Hetherington added.

Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu says Canadians should stockpile food and medication in their homes. (Heather Kitching/CBC)

On Saturday, Ontario confirmed three new positive cases of coronavirus, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the province to 11. As of Saturday, there were 20 confirmed coronavirus cases in Canada.

As the cases rise, Hetherington said food banks are faced with a challenge to make sure that individuals have access to food and that food banks remain open for the city's most vulnerable, while at the same time making sure that volunteers and staff members are protected.

He said the Daily Bread Food Bank has a pandemic plan to be rolled out if the need arises.

"The plan involves things like decreasing the amount of shopping that individuals at food banks do and maybe provide more of a ready-to-go kit," Hetherington explained. 

"We want to decrease the interactions that we're having, but at the same time there is tremendous need. So how do you say no to that? So we are going to monitor what Toronto Public Health tells us to do but we are going to be prepared."

Food for 1 week includes energy bars and dried foods

If you do need to stay home, what exactly would you need to sustain you for a week?

Public Safety Canada recommends this bare-bones emergency kit.

It includes food that won't spoil, such as canned food, energy bars and dried foods. 

CBC News spoke Saturday with several Toronto residents who were doing their usual grocery shopping. Most of them had not heard Hajdu's suggestion to stockpile food, and others said they did not see the need to stockpile yet.

James McDonald says, 'people will be shaking hands less, maybe they will be doing the Howie Mandel fist bump and using the sanitizers.' (CBC)

At the annual PDAC Convention — an international event for the minerals and mining industry — now underway in Toronto, participants said they are taking extra precautions.

"I think maybe people will be shaking hands less, maybe they will be doing the Howie Mandel fist bump and using the sanitizers. Everyone's pretty aware of what is going on," James McDonald told CBC News.

He said the organizers have sent out a list of precautionary steps participants should take to protect themselves.

"They've been monitoring the situation and talking with health officials in Ontario," McDonald said.

Rob Simillie, from New Zealand, says while he is not scared, he has a 'heightened awareness about the possibility of catching' the coronavirus. (CBC)

Rob Simillie, who is attending from New Zealand, said he isn't scared but has a "heightened awareness about the possibility of catching it.

"One of the things that we have come up with is a different kind of handshake. Instead of shaking people by the hand, you can touch people at the back of the wrist, things like that," Simillie told CBC News.

Debra St. Aubin says she's very conscious about washing her hands and avoiding 'people spewing.' (CBC)

Debra St. Aubin travelled from Tucson, Ariz.

"On the plane coming here I saw relatively few people wearing masks. I'm just very conscious about washing, cleansing, trying to keep away from people spewing, but it is what it is," she said.

"I think if everyone takes precautions, keeping their hands washed, covering their face, I think we're going to be fine," St. Aubin said.

With files from Natalie Nanowski and Marguerite Gallorini