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Empty grocery shelves

Exhale…..inhale…just breathe….

Words I have been repeating in my head as things have changed so quickly over the past few days.

Over 4 million people in Canada struggle to access the food they need. According to the Daily Bread Food Bank, Canada’s largest, the average food bank user has $7.83 per day after rent to cover cost of living. People who live with food insecurity are being profoundly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and food security organizations are struggling to meet rising needs.

I spent a lot of time talking to our food security partners over the past week – to understand the impact that COVID-19 is having on their operations and on the people that depend on their services. As the issue escalated over the weekend, the depth of the crisis for these organizations became apparent.

Daily Bread regularly distributes food at 135 community agencies across Toronto, and by Sunday evening more than 50 per cent of them had closed for public health reasons. So, they came up with a solution, partnering with Global Medic who supplied them with tents that they could use to continue distributing food.

Problem solving was an inspiring trend across everyone that I had the opportunity to speak with. Organizations that would normally provide a meal, like a hot lunch or supper, are now packing meals to go. Many have shifted their focus to providing food hampers and are increasing the amount of food from a 3 day to a +7 day supply, so that clients need to come less often. Groups are looking at how to get food to people that cannot get to them. And many people and organizations are stepping up to make a difference.

This has been overwhelming and the sense of urgency as the week progresses has increased. I often have to pause – and remember to breathe. The extent of the humanitarian issue can feel crushing, but these people on the frontlines are heroic. They are doing the absolute best they can for now. But they are really concerned, as their food stocks and budgets will only last a few weeks and the need continues to grow.

Through discussions this week, we have been developing how Maple Leaf Foods and the Centre for Action on Food Security can step up and make a difference in this challenging time. This includes:

  • Immediately increased our regular product donations to $100,000 of healthy products over the next 10 days to organizations with large distribution networks. We will continue to expand product donations to meet needs, although we know that money is what most organizations need most
  • Launched an emergency fund appeal to our people, which Maple Leaf Foods will match, with the goal to raise $100,000. ALL of the funds raised will be contributed to frontline organizations
  • We will be launching a fundraising matching campaign with Maple Leaf Foods to raise an additional $2.0 million to support emergency food relief efforts across Canada
  • Donated $75,000 immediately through the Centre to some of our existing partners working to increase access to food in their communities (over and above funds raised through our internal Maple Leaf Foods campaign)
  • Working with the federal government to provide recommendations regarding how best to respond to the needs of frontline organizations and their clients throughout this crisis
  • Working with a newly created Food Rescue Canadian Alliance Task Force to ensure that any surplus food available is directed to the areas of most need. This includes looking at creative solutions, such as utilizing their catering staff and facilities to prepare meals to include in food hampers
  • Working with Greenleaf Foods to support donations to their local foodbanks in the United States

As crazy as this week has been, I am feeling inspired.

Inspired by the organizations we work with and that are problem solving by the minute to ensure food service is not disrupted; inspired by the commitment of Maple Leaf Foods to help; and inspired by all of the people who have donated and reached out this week to find out what our response would be and how they could help.

Guest post by Sarah Stern, Director, The Maple Leaf Centre for Action on Food Security