Thanksgiving food bank donations lag behind last year's numbers

Thanksgiving is usually the second busiest time of the year for the Daily Bread Food Bank, but this year has been slower than last, which has drawn some concern.

Number of volunteers remain strong, 400 spots filled in 15 minutes

While donations have taken a dip, Torontonians are eager to help out the Daily Bread Food Bank. Roughly 400 volunteer spots were filled within 15 minutes. (CBC)

For the Daily Bread Food Bank, Thanksgiving is usually the second busiest time of the year after Christmas. But this year has been slower than last and that has organizers there concerned.

Gail Nyberg, the food bank's executive director, tells CBC News the amount of both funds and food are lower this year and than last. She's not sure why there's a decline, but between the two, it's the lack of funds that has her worried.

"It's not tracking at the same level or above last year," Nyberg said. "It is a little bit below, and we need it to be at or above." 

Daily Bread Food Bank executive director Gail Nyberg says there has been a decline in food and money donations from last Thanksgiving, but it's the lack of funds that has her worried. (CBC)

The food bank has 130 member agencies with about 50 food banks across the city, which means Daily Bread needs many hands to help.

Thankfully, there are many volunteers willing to help, including students who are picking up volunteer hours. But having enough funds is also a key factor to the food bank's success.

"[Getting] volunteers is the easy part. If I could collect money like I could collect volunteers, we would have more money than we would need," Nyberg added. "We filled 400 spots in 15 minutes."

Demand steady for food bank services

While funds are short, the amount of food is lagging behind the food bank's goal as well.

"The drive doesn't end for a bit, but on this day last year, we had more food and money. I'm pretty confident the food is going to pick up," Nyberg said.

She hopes a food drive competition among schools will get the amount of food where it should be. 

If the Daily Bread reaches its food goals, that will be good news for those who rely on food banks as the demand for Daily Bread services has remained relatively steady with the exception of some big spikes.

Part of the reason for those sudden increases might be due to the number of Syrian refugees making their way into the city, Nyberg said.

"In some hot spots, [the rise] was the influx of Syrian refugees," she said. "It's not 10 people if four or five families come, it's 50 people."

But refugees aren't the only ones turning to food banks. Richard Matern, senior manager of research for the food bank, says there have been over 900,000 visits to Toronto food banks in the past year, and people 45 and up now represent 35 per cent of their clients, which is a concern.

The Daily Bread Food Bank's senior manager of research, Richard Matern Richard Matern says there have been over 900,000 visits to Toronto food banks over the year. (CBC)

"Many of the individuals lost their jobs in the last 10 years. A large per cent have a disability and are having a hard time reentering the workforce and are struggling with rising costs of living on very, very low levels of income," he said.

For those who still would like to donate food, Nyberg says protein, including peanut butter, canned fish and canned meat, is one of the most important items they can get.

"We're always looking for protein," she said. "They're the expensive items and items that people who are short of money have a hard time to purchase themselves. "