Toronto’s food banks have seen record numbers when it comes to demand since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Daily Bread Food Bank estimates it has had around 1.8 million visitors in 2021. That is almost double the 1 million they saw in 2019 and up from 1.4 million in 2020.
This increase in demand is why security measures are so crucial under the current increase in COVID-19 cases, said Neil Hetherington, Daily Breads CEO.
“If the Daily Bread goes down in a week, there are 30,000 food bank visits that will not be met,” he told CBC Toronto. “So we have to do everything we can to make sure that every employee, every volunteer is as safe as possible.”
Toronto’s food banks have already been hit hard by the pandemic. Now that the Omicron variant is increasing demand during the busy holiday season, there are even more logistical challenges to overcome.
Challenges present before Omicron
Daily Bread goes out of its way to make sure staff and volunteers are safe, which in turn keeps those they serve safe and keeps the food bank running, Hetherington said.
Additional measures taken since the launch of Omicron include reducing the number of people present at the site, as well as providing testing and accommodation to those staff and volunteers who need to isolate themselves during this time.
Ultimately, Hetherington feels that the biggest challenges facing food banks have been present even before Omicron.
In addition to food and funding, he said, “we ask individuals to consider advocating so that we can ensure that systemic changes are made within all three levels of government to reduce poverty, to ensure that no one needs a food bank. “
He urged those concerned about food insecurity in their communities to contact their elected representatives.
Meanwhile, there is at least one charity in town that is equipped to handle the current situation.
The Toronto Bike Brigade works with food banks and other organizations to deliver fresh ingredients and meals to them across the city.
Rachel Wang, one of the group’s organizers, told CBC News that delivery by bike is the best way to make it safe right now.
“Delivering is actually pretty safe compared to, you know, you’re outside, you’re on your bike, you’re not in a car with someone else,” she said.
Bike Brigade has a small but dedicated team of winter riders who have made an extra effort to ensure their deliveries are made, even in the harshest weather.
The group, which was formed in the early days of the pandemic, knows the importance of keeping everyone safe, Wang said. They have been well practiced at low-contact or no-contact deliveries.
“Our pick-ups and our drop-offs are largely built around survival in the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said. “We make sure we go in safely and make sure our volunteers feel comfortable.”
In December, CBC Toronto’s Sounds of the Season campaign raised money to support local food banks. So far, you have generously donated just over $ 850,000 to those in need. If you would like to donate, you can find more information about the collection here.