Home Blog April 2021 Supporting a National Network of Food Banks Through Innovation During a Time of Crisis

Supporting a National Network of Food Banks Through Innovation During a Time of Crisis

Supporting a National Network of Food Banks Through Innovation During a Time of Crisis
Food bankers—they are leaders, navigators, and innovators, all working toward a common goal.

So it should be no surprise these amazingly dedicated and talented individuals were all ready to spring into action the moment the pandemic started to disrupt everyday life across the country.

In order to rally everybody from coast-to-coast-to-coast, the team at Food Banks Canada brought the entire food banking system together in a way they had never done previously.

Food Banks Canada Chief Network Services Officer, Kirstin Beardsley, explains. “We started conducting weekly Zoom meetings with food bankers to ensure we were continuing to be responsive to the challenges being faced as a result of the pandemic. Right off the bat, there were three main stressors common to all of them; the first being a drastic reduction in volunteers.”

Since food banks tend to be mostly powered by volunteers, this fed into the second challenge they were encountering.

“While they had to stay open to support the growing influx of people in need, there weren’t any clear guidelines as to how food banks were supposed to operate during a pandemic,” states Kirstin. “And finally, there was just a really messy access to food due to disruptions in the supply chain. But food bankers are a resourceful bunch. They reached out to their communities and to each other, coming up with innovative solutions to these entirely new sets of challenges.”

Tania Little, Chief Development and Partnerships Officer at Food Banks Canada goes on to share one of her favourite stories of food banks coming up with creative solutions.

“When the Daily Bread Food Bank in Toronto saw that a bunch of its agencies were closing as a result of the pandemic, they established a partnership with the Toronto Public Library Foundation,” recalls Tania. “Then they reached out to librarians, who were temporarily furloughed, which is pretty brilliant when you think about it. Reaching out to individuals who sorted books for a living, to instead sort food and build hampers; then handing those hampers out in library locations across the city. That goes beyond resiliency. That’s the dogged perseverance food bankers have. Caring so deeply for their clients that whenever a barrier gets put up, they figure out a way to get around it.”

In addition to being innovative, food bankers are also amazingly in-tune and connected to their respective communities.

Kirstin recalls a shining example of this, “Out west, a food bank in our network identified a healthy surplus of British Columbia salmon. Due to restaurants being closed, the salmon was just sitting there, so B.C. food banks reached out to us. Now thanks to them, we’re working with local canneries to package really high quality protein in a format that’s available for food banks over a period of several months. People in need will get fed and the community will be able to keep jobs running at the cannery. That’s the positive ripple effect of people coming together for the greater good.”

To enable food banks to continue to be creative and innovative throughout these challenging times, Food Banks Canada also provided an opportunity for essential funding to flow to them.

“Providing food banks with the money they needed enabled them to pilot new solutions as well as share and learn with other food banks within our network,” explains Tania. “After all, money goes a long way in alleviating pressure—especially during a pandemic. But what really impressed me throughout all of the ups and downs faced by the food banking community over the past few months is just how smart and resilient they are.”

Although the future is still fairly uncertain, Kirstin goes on to share how the story of food banking is one of everyday people doing their part to make a difference, all while staying positive.

“I recently spoke to these amazingly upbeat ladies living in a small rural community in northern Alberta and they told me, ‘people in this little town have been helping their neighbours for hundreds of years, and we’re not going to stop the tradition now. We’ll just get up again tomorrow and see what the world is like.’ It’s the voice of hope in the middle of everything that’s going on right now that I find most inspiring.”

As the next few months roll on, Kirstin believes it’s important to maintain that level of optimism.

“Our story is still evolving. The food banking system will most likely be relied on heavily when CERB and wage subsidies start to end. So we need to be prepared for the people who will once again start coming through the doors. But thanks to this campaign, we’re also accessing more donations (from suppliers, farmers, and producer groups) and bringing food banks together in a way and on a scale we have never done before. By continuing to build on our strengths, there’s really no limit as to what we can accomplish.”

With next year being the 40th anniversary of food banking in Canada, perhaps the country can finally come together to put an end to hunger once and for all.

“Hunger is solvable, I have to believe that,” says Kirstin. “My hope is that there is enough momentum and collective awareness of the issues that will enable us to finally figure out a way to end food insecurity in Canada. I am always going to believe that future is possible. But food banks can’t do it alone. We need everybody to understand that this is real problem that can be solved if we all stand together.”
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of food distributed by Canadian food banks is fresh (eg. milk, eggs, fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, bread)