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The Food Bank focused on the well-being of the community

The Food Bank saw a 40 percent increase in food distribution compared to the same period in 2019
Food bank
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In the best of times, individuals and families suffering from food insecurity struggle to put food on the table. Add onto that the undue stress of a pandemic, and a strenuous situation becomes even more difficult.

Faced with this adversity, The Food Bank of Waterloo Region did everything in their power to ensure no one went hungry during the pandemic.

Wendi Campbell is the CEO of The Food Bank and she noted that even during the height of the COVID crisis, they never slowed down and kept up with demand.

“We are an essential service,” Campbell said. “A lot of people ask us: ‘How has it been working at home?’ We haven’t been working at home.

“We have a small number of our staff who are at home as a backup plan to make sure that we had staff that were available if anybody on our operations team got sick. But for the most part, we’ve been here every day since the middle of March because we are providing an essential service to more than 100 partners in the community.”

During the first wave of the pandemic, The Food Bank didn’t see a drastic increase in the number of people accessing their programs and services, but they witnessed a 30 percent uptick in the number of new households accessing services for the first time.

The Food Bank also experienced a 40 percent spike in food distribution compared to the same time last year. Campbell noted the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) helped offset the strain on food assistance programs, but the 40 percent increase in total food distribution made things busy during the first four months of the pandemic.

While CERB helped flatten the food assistance curve, with many now transitioning over to employment insurance, The Food Bank braces for the second wave of food demand in Waterloo Region.

“We have a lot of work to do to continue delivering the services we are delivering, but also preparing for that increase,” Campbell said. “We know it’s coming; we just don’t know when.

“We just need to make sure we have the staff and the volunteers and the food resources ready to go so that when that need in the community changes, we’re ready.”

One of the biggest changes at The Food Bank in recent months was they became ground zero for packing and distributing food hampers. In a typical year, they send food in bulk to network partners and programs, but this year, volunteers and employees packed hampers at the warehouse on Alpine Court.

From mid-March to late June, they shipped out over 1 million pounds of food and sent more than 24,000 food hampers for individuals and families who needed food assistance.

The Food Bank navigated these new challenges as best as they could, and Campbell marvels how they kept pace.

“We did fairly well, but it was challenging,” Campbell said. “To make sure we had the right food at the right time, to be able to keep moving at the increased levels. 40 percent more food has gone out the door, and we needed to make sure we were procuring that food to be able to get it back out.”

While it’s difficult to forecast what could happen in the near future, they’re working toward their long-term plan, ensuring there are enough food supplies to fill food hampers until spring 2021.

Food is often at the forefront of any Thanksgiving get-together, and this year’s Thanksgiving plans will look vastly different for everyone. The Food Bank asks for the community’s assistance this Thanksgiving in the form of monetary donations.

Ordinarily, one dollar would provide three meals, but a community partner has matched that donation, which means one dollar donated to The Food Bank will provide six meals. While they’re still accepting non-perishable and perishable food donations, a monetary donation stretches a lot further.

“We know the second wave of this will layer on top of cold and flu season. We have to keep this community healthy,” Campbell said. “And if we can do that through healthier food hampers, then that’s what we want to do. Financial donations can go a really long way to help ensure the health and well-being of the community.”

Local charities like The Food Bank run on the generosity of the community, and during this trying time, Campbell was impressed by how Waterloo Region stepped up with comfort and kindness to families who needed it most.

“We know that we live in a generous community. We know that this community cares. We know that this community works really hard to support each other, but I think this has really highlighted that and really showcased how amazing and how generous people are in the community.”
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