Home Blog April 2021 How Feed Ontario Helped their Members During COVID-19

How Feed Ontario Helped their Members During COVID-19

How Feed Ontario Helped their Members During COVID-19
Hunger eradication is not something that can be done solely by one person. It really takes a village at all levels —national, provincial and municipal to work towards a solution.  And from food distribution to securing donations and helping multiple local communities at the same time, Feed Ontario has their hands full within the province.
“We serve 132 member food banks, and through them there are another 1100 affiliate agencies.”, says Rachel Dixon, Director of Development at Feed Ontario. “Throughout the pandemic, we have seen Ontario’s food banks face numerous challenges in addition to an increase in clients. And through Link2feed, we have been able to capture important client data indicating that a lot of people and families were visiting a food bank in Ontario for the first time. In the first three months of the pandemic alone, we saw an increase of 26% in first-time visitors”.
The provincial association has seen food banks face many hardships in previous years, but not as challenging as during COVID-19.
“When the province first went into a state of emergency in March 2020, access to local food sources was not easy, and we saw many delays in food deliveries, which meant that the local food banks were struggling to serve the increasing needs of the communities as quickly as they would want, especially with the increasing number of visitors that suddenly emerged. And in addition to that, the physical distancing and other health and safety measures that were implemented by the province impacted food banks’ access to volunteers. Many had to let some of their volunteers go temporarily. I don’t usually get to work with many food banks directly but last year I was able to do it as our entire staff conducted check-ins with our member food banks. I was able to see firsthand the challenges that they were facing. Many small food banks are working mostly on volunteers only and to see them struggle is heartbreaking”, continues Rachel.
Feed Ontario had to quickly come up with ways to help their member food banks.
“As a response to that, we created the COVID-19 emergency food box program, so within the first few months we were able to pre-pack food hampers with one week’s worth of food for an individual and we were able to do that in one central location. These were then shipped to food banks across the province so they wouldn’t have to worry about having volunteers onsite and accessing nutritious food locally. The hampers could just be delivered to individuals directly”.
And it really paid off.
“We were able to deliver 8.2 million days worth of food in the first few months”.
But this was a temporary solution. So, they sat down and came up with various programs that would serve more communities, for longer stretches of time.
“We tried to pivot towards finding ways to set up and equip more food banks across Ontario to better serve the needs of the communities long term. So, we launched a new program called Full Shelves which would help access more food staples for Ontario’s food banks. And through that, we were able to work with new partners. We were sending truckloads of food to our larger food banks and and single or half pallets for our smaller food banks. And we continued our pre-packed hamper program, as many food banks found this useful. The other thing we are doing is our Feed Possibility grant program. We provide food banks with resources to grow their capacity to distribute fresh food, to develop best practices, and to invest in innovative programming for people facing hunger in their communities. There were many innovations that came out during COVID-19 and some that can continue post pandemic. We want to ensure that food banks have the support they need to continue innovating. We are also working on new ways to serve our northern communities, which have greater challenges than other areas”.
They also focused on where the needs were bigger.
“We want to work on building a more inclusive space that is addressing everybody’s needs and people can access food banks. What are we doing as an organization to ensure that whoever needs food support will be able to have that wherever they are? How can we help our food banks help them?  How can we work with government and communities to develop lasting solutions to hunger and poverty? We want to make sure that we are part of the solution and not part of the problem”.
Aside from the logistics, what stood out for many is the strength of the network.
“We have seen many things during COVID-19. Food banks pivoting their operations from left to right, but I think that one of the bigger things that we have seen is the resiliency of the food bank network. We all knew that Ontario’s food bank network is resilient, but this has been highlighted even more during COVID-19, and has made us stronger. We are now collaborating even more than before. It has just been so inspiring”.
And also, the compassion of Ontarians.
“In the last year we did more than we have ever done to support food banks and communities, and we could not have done that without the support of Ontarians. The fact that so many businesses and people stepped up to support us has been incredible. We would not have been able to do all those new programs without them. People really care and they really want to support their communities. I’ve seen the food banks who just want to say ‘Thank you to everyone who supported us’. That support has brought so much joy. We also have been fortunate enough to see so many donors during the year, and I believe people see that food security is a long-term issue that will not disappear with the pandemic. I believe that Ontario cares and that they want to help. Together we really can help Feed Ontario”.

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of food distributed by Canadian food banks is fresh (eg. milk, eggs, fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, bread)