Despite the numerous challenges of COVID-19, food banks around Toronto remain open to serve families in need. However, just like the communities they assist, food banks have also had to adapt to the pandemic. Many food banks, such as Flemingdon Park Food Bank and Community Share Food Bank, which was established in 2004, operate under reduced hours or have had to handle Distribution with fewer volunteers.

“One of the biggest changes is that we’ve had to hire a part-time food program manager to oversee our operation,” said Dorothy Boothroyd, one of the Co-Chairs of the Community Share Food Bank, which serves the Don Mills area.

Before the pandemic, the food bank was managed by over one hundred volunteers in rotations, but given current restrictions, only about thirty volunteers are available, also on a rotating basis. Volunteers wear masks while on duty, and wash their hands and change gloves frequently. Food is  distributed behind plexiglass in pre-packed bags of perishable and non-perishable items. Furthermore, clients in need of food now must make appointments through phone or email before arriving at Church of the Ascension. Distribution hours have been reduced to Wednesdays instead of Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Moreover, Community Share Food Bank, which operates under the umbrella organization North York Harvest, has had to roll back many of its programs due to the pandemic, including its popular nutritious breakfast program, which provided healthy food and opportunities to socialize. 

Although need may be increasing in other areas of the city, Ms. Boothroyd said the demand for food has remained mostly static in the catchment area of the Community Share Food Bank. However, there is an increase in the number of food deliveries made to families. Before the pandemic, the food bank delivered food to approximately ten families each week, but now it delivers food to more than thirty-five families each week in collaboration with Better Living, which runs a Meals on Wheels program.

When asked about the qualifications needed to obtain food, Ms. Boothroyd said, “There’s only one qualification, and that’s that you live within the catchment area.” There had been additional requirements based on financial criteria  three to four years ago, but “nobody comes to a food bank who doesn’t need to be here,” she said. However, if a client resides outside of the catchment area, they will still receive food, but will be referred to the food bank in their area.

Due to the pandemic, Community Share Food Bank has not run any food drives, but it has been running a successful ‘no-food’ food drive by accepting monetary donations through its website. The donated funds are used to purchase produce, milk, and eggs to enhance what is regularly received from North York Harvest and Second Harvest for families in need. The food bank has a strict healthy food policy that strives to procure perishable and non-perishable items composed of non-processed foods,  low in sodium and sugar. Although the food bank does accept donations of healthy food at this time, it must be contacted in advance and food donations must be isolated for ten days before they can be distributed.

Apart from donations of food or money, raising awareness about food banks and the need for food banks is important for food banks to continue operating. Students had previously volunteered at Community Share Food Bank, but under these circumstances, no student volunteers are allowed.

Furthermore, Ms. Boothroyd suggested other resources for youth, adults, and seniors, including Kids Help Phone (https://kidshelpphone.ca/), Toronto Seniors Helpline (https://torontoseniorshelpline.ca/), What’s Up? (http://whatsupwalkinclinic.ca), and a guide to coping during COVID-19 from North York General Hospital (https://mentalhealthcovid19.ca/).

“Stay hopeful. We have to obey municipal, provincial, and federal guidelines to stay safe. If we work together, we can get through this,” Ms. Boothroyd concluded. “Continue to reach out to people via Zoom and other platforms. Try to laugh, get exercise, stay as well-nourished as your circumstances allow, and avail yourself of food banks as necessary.”

To learn more about Community Share Food Bank, visit https://www.communitysharefoodbank.ca/.

Flemingdon Food Bank (https://www.fcfoodbank.com/) distributes food on Mondays and Wednesdays, and operates under the umbrella organization Daily Bread Food Bank. Registering at https://dailybread.link2feed.ca/ gives weekly access to a food bank that is part of the Daily Bread Food Bank.

For more community resources and support, visit https://211central.ca/ to receive information on organizations serving specific locations in the Greater Toronto Area.