In this season of giving, our Feeding City team seeks to highlight and appreciate the tremendous work of just a few of the many food supports organizations that serve a wide range of communities and vulnerable groups that face hunger and food insecurity. An estimated 6,000 new clients accessed food banks in Toronto in June 2020 alone, as compared to 2,000 in February 2020. There were close to one million visits to food banks in Toronto between April 1, 2019 and March 31, 2020. The report Who’s Hungry — Beyond COVID-19: Building a Future Without Poverty, notes that the rise of food insecurity in Canada is not just a COVID-19 issue. The pandemic has exacerbated the financial situations of many people in Toronto — resulting in food bank use in the city reaching an all-time high. The report predicts this coming year will have the highest number of food bank visits ever recorded in the city. “Canadians are not in poverty simply because they have ‘fallen through the cracks. Instead, our income security system sets a low floor, one that provides poverty incomes.” In this grave situation, we encourage readers to support the amazing work of these community food support groups, even as we mobilize for systemic and policy change so as to equitably feed our cities and the world.
Junior Researchers: Azra Alavi, Hannah Klemmensen, Olivia Rodrigo, Yusra Khalid.
Collective Action and Response for Everyone in Scarborough (or C.A.R.E.S.) was a joint project between GlobalMedic, University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC), and the City of Toronto, running from April 30 to August 14, 2020. The project repackaged bulk food such as lentils and grains delivered by GlobalMedic into 500 gram bags for distribution to 56 community food justice organizations and food banks in the Scarborough and Durham areas. Run by redeployed City of Toronto and UTSC staff and 164 community and student volunteers, C.A.R.E.S. operated 5 days a week out of the Highland Hall building at UTSC, now converted into a Covid-19 test centre to serve the hard-hit Eastern GTA region.
The Daily Bread Food Bank was founded in 1983 and collaborates with 130+ member food banks and food support programs to provide wider access to nutritious foods. It advocates for the right to food and for systemic changes to end poverty. It values creative and informed approaches to ensure the accessibility and equity of their services that meet the needs of their clients. It aims to engage the local community and food bank clients and provide opportunities for skills development through their Volunteer Action Committee, which conducts the food bank operations, refers clients to resources and develops programming based on community needs. From its 108,000 sq.ft. distribution hub, Daily Bread supplies food to nearly 200 food programs across Toronto with a fleet of five trucks. Since launching a Farm to Food Bank program, it has rescued hundreds of thousands of pounds of fresh, ‘perfectly imperfect’ produce from farms and distributed them to food banks. It has also stepped up its efforts to tackle the issues of lost food and greenhouse gas emissions, starting at the farm level.
Eden Food for Change
Eden Food for Change was an initiative by a members of Eden United Church, who formed an informal food bank in 1989. The Eden Community Food Bank, through their fundraising campaigns — including “The Kothari Community Challenge” donation match initiative in partnership with a local business group — met the needs of the community at the most critical time across 2020, and provided continued support through various programs at Mississauga.
FoodShare is a Toronto-based organization that partners with and provides support for community-based food initiatives to facilitate equitable access to nutritious food. Some of their main activities include: distributing good food boxes, local produce markets, supporting school-meal programs, community gardens and delivering food education programs. Through their collaborations with community partners, they aim to center BIPOC voices in the food justice movement and advocate for long-term solutions to end oppressive systems that induce poverty.
ICNA (Islamic Circle of North America) Relief Canada is a grassroots initiative that collaborates with mainstream food banks, namely, Mississauga food bank, Daily Bread at Thorncliffe, and also with Ottawa food banks. In addition to active efforts during Covid-19, ICNA Relief donated 2000 pounds of food and cash to Mississauga food bank as a gesture of support during these difficult times for Thanksgiving, 2020.
Muslim Welfare Center
MWC has been involved in tackling food insecurity for the past 27 years through local neighbourhood-based programs, such as Halal Meals on Wheels and Halal food banks in Montreal, Scarborough and Mississauga. Launched in 2016 with Muslim Welfare Canada as lead agency, and the support of Taibu Community Health Centre, 1 LoveMalvern, 42 Division Toronto Police Service, Malvern Food Bank/Seventh Day Adventist, and Malvern Presbyterian Church, its Malvern Eats program has served over 34,000 meals with the help of 250+ volunteers from all walks of life Their services continued in a modified form during COVID-19 despite the tremendous challenges for volunteers. It adapted to serve fresh meals and hot lunches (in place of in-person events) through its Meals on Wheels program, across GTA neighbourhoods. For instance, during Thanksgiving 2020, MWC distributed 400+ take-out meals and delivered 95 meals to the doorsteps of vulnerable seniors in Regent Park, Toronto.
National Zakat Foundation
National Zakat Foundation is a grassroots initiative that has informally partnered with 40+ organizations to create the Canadian Muslim Response Network (“CMRN”). This network provided assistance of all kind, including food and other basic essentials during COVID-19. They also coordinated with several local food banks in the city, including unregistered pop-up food bank groups , to better serve food support needs across different parts of the GTA.
North York Harvest Food Bank
North York Harvest strives to provide dignified food assistance to its community, through securing healthy food donations to supporting well-connected and welcoming community food banks. This also means respecting the diverse circumstances that bring clients to their doors. They recognize that for many of the recently unemployed, seniors, families with children, and people living with disabilities, food banks are a last, yet necessary, resort. As the distribution hub for northern Toronto, North York Harvest works to provide food support, programming and connections. Before the pandemic, they offered many programs and services in addition to food warehousing and distribution operations, with a diverse front line service agencies. Programs included community garden activities, free pick-your-own gleaning trips, as well as work with community food banks such as Bathurst-Finch, Oriole & Lawrence Heights Community Food Space. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they adapted raising funds virtually, especially through their North York Harvest Hamper Hero program where a gift of $15 to provides a family in need with an emergency food hamper of staples such as canned beans, fish, and pasta.
Scarborough Food Security Initiative
The Scarborough Food Security Initiative started after March 2020 as an informal community initiative among citizens in Southwest Scarborough who realized the extreme need to fill the gaps left by food bank closures. The initiative has since grown to operate 4 food banks and a mobile meal truck. They plan to open a food service training center in the coming months. They emphasize that food is a human right, taking innovative steps to ensure that the experience of accessing food supports is dignified. They have recently converted their food banks to a ‘grocery store’ model that allows more choice in what items a person chooses to take home. The project is running a ‘reverse advent calendar’ donation drive throughout December.
Second Harvest aims to tackle the climate crisis and address food insecurity in Canada. Their core mission is to reduce food waste in the food industry by procuring excess perishable food. They deliver such foods to food banks and other community organizations that provide food support, such as shelters, community centres and drop-in meal programs. Their online site , FoodRescue.ca allows businesses to connect directly with local organizations and charities to distribute surplus food. Their Harvest Kitchens program trains adults and youth with barriers to employment in food preparation. Every day, Second Harvest drivers deliver a portion of donated fresh and frozen food to Harvest Kitchens partners, including: Centre for Opportunities Respect and Empowerment (CORE), East Scarborough Boys and Girls Club, Frontlines Toronto, Hospitality Workers Training Centre, and YMCA – Charles Street. From July to August 2020, volunteers and partners assembled and distributed 1,600 kits a week to families across the GTA. This ‘Camp in a Box’ was filled with ingredients for healthy lunches, activities, and a food education resource. They encourage people to follow them on social @SecondHarvestCA for updates and to sign up for their newsletter to get the latest on special events.
Seva Food Bank
The Seva Food Bank, a 10-year old initiative of Sikhs Serving Canada, is based in Mississauga. It recognizes that people dealing with food insecurity may not get enough nutrients leading to a variety of health illnesses. Therefore, in addition to providing food hampers, it has undertaken initiatives to fulfill the dietary needs of community members by offering them fresh food and vegetables. In 2019, they received professional certification for their community kitchen where we taught clients to cook simple and nutritious meals using the affordable ingredients they could find at the food bank. They have focused during the pandemic on supplying an average of 100,000 pounds of culturally-appropriate food, alongside support services in five languages, to low-income families living across seven postal codes. To facilitate donations, they maintain a regularly updated database of donated items and what is most in need for those communities, such as frozen halal meat, baby formula, atta flour, and fresh produce.
The Stop believes that nutritious, sustainable, and culturally appropriate food is a human right for all. From its origins as one of Canada’s first food banks in the 1980’s, The Stop blossomed into a thriving community hub where neighbours could participate in a broad range of programs that provided healthy food, foster social connections, build food skills, and promote civic engagement. It created a range of programs to increase access to healthy food in a manner that maintains dignity, builds health and community, and challenges inequality. In 2020, at a critical time for the containment of COVID–19, The Stop Community Food Centre took a decision to shift its resources away from community programming and towards emergency food access services. Its Food Bank provided a three-day supply of food, once per month, to registered individuals and families from the catchment area. Through creative partnerships and the support of donors, its hampers feature fresh produce, milk, eggs, whole grains, a seasonal vegetable each month, with accompanying food demos and recipes.
TNO Food Collaborative
The TNO (The Neighbourhood Office) Food Collaborative primarily serves the Thorncliffe and Flemingdon communities in East York, Toronto. Its food bank serves approximately 700 families across these Muslim-majority neighborhoods with a focus on halal and South Asian staples. This collaborative was initiated in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic when there was an increasing demand for food supports in these neighborhoods where a majority of the population belongs to newcomer and racialized communities, and a high proportion of essential workers.
On December 5th, 2020 at 10am, residents of Toronto were invited to leave a non-perishable food item on their doorstep (clearly marked for Toronto Miracle – TM). Volunteers collected these donations and redistributed them through neighbourhood food banks and support networks. Over 140,000 items of non-perishable foods were collected by more than 2500 volunteers. Donations went directly to over 300 neighbourhood organizations and TM’s partner organizations Daily Bread Food Bank, Second Harvest, & North York Harvest Food Bank. This followed similar drives in Canadian localities such as Ottawa, Chatham-Kent, Windsor-Essex, and Montreal. This grassroots initiative is run completely on volunteer power.
U of T Emergency Foodbank
With the closure of the University of Toronto St. George food bank due to Covid-19, students and recent graduates became aware of an urgent need for a support system for vulnerable members facing food insecurity. This impelled them to create the U of T Emergency Foodbank. This is a joint project between Trek for Teens and Engineers without Borders. It offers weekly deliveries of FoodShare’s Good Food Boxes to students and their families in need. Since opening in April, the operation has delivered over 1200 boxes to over 300 students. It plans to expand into a more sustainable, long-term operation in the coming months.
Who Is Hussain
Since its London (UK) beginnings in 2012, Who is Hussain (WIH) has rapidly grown into a global movement with representatives in over 60 cities around the world. It seeks to empower communities around the world to organize charitable events for the common good. In the GTA, WIH’s grassroots initiative, is responsive to the dietary needs of the Muslim community and helps food banks as part of those campaigns. For instance, in August 2020, WIH donated fresh halal chicken packets to Masumeen Muslim Food Bank in Thornhill as part of their neighbourhood campaigns.
Reference: Who’s Hungry Report, 2020: https://www.dailybread.ca/research-and-advocacy/whos-hungry-report-2020/