Food News

How pandemic generosity boosted Canada’s food banks

Food banks received unprecedented donations and grants during COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges and hardships to many Canadians, especially those who struggle to afford food. But it has also sparked a wave of generosity and compassion from individuals, businesses and governments who want to help those in need. As a result, some of Canada’s largest food banks have received record-breaking donations and grants that have boosted their reserves and allowed them to expand their services.

According to a CBC News analysis, 12 large food banks across the country collectively held about $168 million in cash and investments last year, roughly quadrupling their reserve balances since 2019. During that time, their expenses also roughly doubled, as they had to buy more food, hire more staff and adapt to new safety protocols. National and provincial food bank associations had an additional $70 million in reserves.

The money came from multi-million dollar surpluses fuelled by pandemic generosity and extraordinary government grants. For some food banks, those surpluses are still adding to their balance sheets.

Food banks prepare for rising demand and falling donations

While the pandemic has given some food banks a financial cushion, it has also increased the demand for their services. Many Canadians have lost their jobs, faced reduced incomes or incurred unexpected expenses due to COVID-19. At the same time, food prices have risen sharply, making it harder for low-income households to afford nutritious meals.

How pandemic generosity boosted Canada’s food banks

Some food bank CEOs say they are nervous about the future, as they anticipate a surge in need and a decline in donations. They say they are using their reserves wisely, investing in infrastructure, equipment and programs that will help them serve more people and address the root causes of hunger.

For example, the Ottawa Food Bank has seen its reserves shrink from $22.3 million last year to about $14 million today, as it has funded a new building, provided grants to community food banks and bought more food. It is running a deficit in 2023, and plans to go about $2.6 million into the red next year.

The Toronto Daily Bread Food Bank has seen its reserves swell about 12-fold from 2019 to 2022, but it has also grown its organization three times in size, serving four times as many clients and paying 10 times as much for food. It has also launched new initiatives such as a mobile food bank, a community kitchen and a social enterprise.

Food banks aim to create lasting change beyond the pandemic

While food banks are grateful for the support they have received during the pandemic, they also stress that their work is not over. They say they want to create lasting change in the lives of their clients and in the society that allows hunger to persist.

They say they are working with other organizations and governments to advocate for policies that will reduce poverty, improve income security and ensure access to affordable housing. They say they are also empowering their clients to develop skills, find employment and achieve self-reliance.

They say they hope that the pandemic will inspire Canadians to continue to care for each other and to address the systemic issues that drive people to food banks. They say they believe that everyone deserves to have enough food to eat and to live with dignity.

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