Home Blog April 2021 National Volunteer Week 2021: The Value of One, the Power of Many

National Volunteer Week 2021: The Value of One, the Power of Many

National Volunteer Week 2021: The Value of One, the Power of Many
The theme of National Volunteer Week 2021 is The Value of One, The Power of Many. For the thousands of food banks across Canada, this sentiment rings especially true of the experience throughout the last year.

Volunteers have always been the backbone of the food bank network. Before the pandemic, approximately 40 per cent of food banks nationwide were run entirely by volunteers, with that proportion being even higher in smaller and rural communities. These volunteers perform essential tasks such as sorting donations, transferring food in and out of vehicles, and distributing food to those in need.

With the physical distancing requirements, lockdown measures and service adjustments made necessary by the pandemic, many food banks had to reduce or temporarily suspend their volunteer workforce. This reduction in volunteers had a profound impact on food bank operations throughout last year and emphasized just how crucial volunteers are in helping to ensure Canadians can access the food they need.

In fact, our Snapshot of Food Banks in Canada and COVID-19 report found that reduction of volunteers was by far the biggest challenge faced by Canadian food banks in the early stages of the pandemic, with 42 per cent of food banks mentioning the reduction of volunteers as an issue of critical importance.

Despite the significant challenges, food banks, and the volunteers working for them, have proven to be a responsive, nimble, and sustaining force.

Younger volunteers stepped up to the plate, while older, at risk volunteers stayed home to protect themselves. Many food banks began offering home delivery, with volunteers dropping off food hampers to better serve clients facing greater health risks during the pandemic, such as seniors and people with disabilities. Within the food banks, volunteers began to alternate their shifts with others, to reduce the number of people in the building.

As most parts of Canada are amid the third wave of the pandemic, experience from the last year tells us there will be a spike in need, particularly in urban centres and other areas whose economies are being more heavily impacted by the new set of shutdowns.

Fortunately, Food Banks Canada is confident that there is hope on the horizon with governments introducing long-term policy solutions that can reduce food bank use by addressing poverty and low incomes.  We are also hopeful that more and more front-line food bank staff and volunteers will be vaccinated in the weeks ahead so that they can continue to help those in their communities in a safe environment.

In the meantime, experience also tells us that food banks and their volunteers will continue to serve, adapt, and innovate to help struggling Canadians navigate through to the next stage of our collective recovery.

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