Home COVID-19: Your Questions Answered on How Food Banks Across Canada are Responding

COVID-19: Your Questions Answered on How Food Banks Across Canada are Responding

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, food banks and community agencies are on the frontlines responding to the increased need, every day. Food Banks Canada and provincial food bank associations are working hard to support their efforts.

We are aware that you have questions about the COVID-19 response efforts of food banks. Below are answers to our most frequent questions.

Q: How are food banks impacted by COVID-19?
A. Many of the 3,000+ food banks and community agencies we support from coast-to-coast-to-coast report facing significant challenges as they work tirelessly to provide their clients with essential services.

Challenges like:
  • Drastic reductions in volunteers and staff – either because they are at higher risk, must take care of children or are adhering or modifying operations to social distance, isolate or quarantine requirements
  • Having to cancel food drives and fundraising events due to front line demands – some markets are seeing a 50% drop in food donations
  • Many are reporting having just 10-14 days of food in stock, and that’s based on current usage rates. What happens if the need continues to grow or food banks can’t replenish their stocks, using usual donors to serve those in need?
In order to cope with these challenges, we’re seeing a consolidation of distribution centres, meaning that some food banks are serving larger areas because other food banks have had to close – either due to a lack of volunteers or because they were in a physical location or program that had to shutter (like community centres). The food bank network continues to operate (with adjustments) as they are deeply resilient and used to refining their work based upon community need.

Q: What impact will COVID-19 have on food bank use?
A. Before COVID-19, Canadians made 1.1 million visits to food banks across Canada in one month alone. Regularly, low-income households must choose between rent, utilities, childcare, medicine and food in order to make ends meet. COVID-19 has led to reduced work hours and lost employment. As conditions worsen, more households will be unable to afford necessities and may need to access food bank services. Food bank use is expected to rise in the near future, with some locations already experiencing major increases in usage.

To put this into perspective, during the great recession of 2008, food banks across Canada saw an increase of 200,000 additional clients each month, which equated to a 28% increase at the time, which unfortunately has never returned to pre-2008 levels. As we see a rise in layoffs, industry shutdowns and resulting unemployment and EI applications, we know that it will have a trickle-down effect on food banks. There are significant challenges in having to support a greater volume of need in a much shorter period. The food bank network is working hard to stay ahead of this challenge. 
Q: With schools closed, how are children getting meals? 
A. As part of the national efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 and ensure the healthcare system does not get overwhelmed, schools in Canada are officially closed. This means many children who received meals through school breakfast and lunch programs may not be able to access the food they would normally have during the day. Food banks are facilitating the provision of healthy meal kits to children in coordination with school boards, community organizations and municipal/provincial governments through new partnerships. 
Q: What are food banks doing to protect employees, volunteers and clients?
A. Food banks across Canada are making innovative adjustments to address increased service demands while protecting the health and safety of clients, employees and volunteers. They are following the guidelines and recommendations of local and provincial public health authorities, and implementing infection prevention and control practices, such as enhanced cleaning, disinfecting and hand hygiene. To avoid crowding and promote social distancing, many food banks have shifted their distribution models to offer scheduled appointments for food pick-ups and drop-offs, pre-packed hampers, drive-thru services and food delivery programs. People are at the center of everything the food bank network of Canada does, and we are working to minimize risk and ensure employees, volunteers and clients are kept as safe and healthy as possible.       
Q: What do I do if I need food? Can anyone receive help from a food bank?
A. During difficult times, many of us require temporary food support. Food Banks Canada is working with local food banks and all levels of government to ensure the network is able to meet the expected rise in demand. If you need help from a food bank, use the food bank locator, or conduct an online search to find and call your nearest food bank location. They will provide details on what’s needed in your area to access food in the current environment. 
Q:  How are staff and volunteers doing?
A. What has been impressive throughout all of this is the ingenuity, resourcefulness and dedication of the food banks’ staff and volunteers across the network, in an effort to support their clients. They need your help now more than ever. Food bankers have been working tirelessly to find solutions to the challenges they face, from exploring new sources for volunteers and devising alternative delivery methods that minimize human contact when providing much-needed food to clients, to shifting their focus exclusively to providing emergency food support and raising funds. They’ve been quick to respond to any roadblocks faced; however the challenges are taking their toll on the remaining staff and volunteers, which is why they need help now. 
Q: How do I volunteer at a food bank?
A. As volunteer roles, requirements and demands have changed at many food banks, it is best to connect with your nearest food bank directly and learn about the help needed in your area. Call your local food bank today to find out how you can offer support. 

Q: What is the best way to help my local food bank right now?
A. COVID-19 has placed increased pressure on food banks across Canada. We have growing concerns and need the help of Canadians. One way to help is to make a financial contribution to the ‘COVID-19 Response Fund’ for food banks. Your donation will support food purchasing, distribution and resourcing within food banks, and ensure they can continue the critical work of helping our most vulnerable neighbours.

Additionally, use our food bank locator to find your closest food bank, reach out to them and ask how you can help.  The best way to support your local food bank depends on several factors at the local level and they are best situated to guide support.  
If you have any other questions, please let us know at info@foodbankscanada.ca.