Sadly, there is food insecurity even in a rich country like Canada. In 1983, a charitable institution called the Food Bank opened its doors in order to make food available for those who are in need, their motto being that food is a human right and that no one should go hungry. I fully agree which is why I have been volunteering my time in the main location in Toronto which supplies other food banks in the city as well as member agencies such as The Salvation Army, The Red Cross, churches that provide food for the needy, and other such bodies. That’s me above standing by the industrial type vats that are used for making soups and stews.
The demand has increased since the start of the pandemic and last year, the Food Bank distributed close to 17 million pounds of food through 189 food and meal programs in Toronto. In the main branch where I work, there are several areas of operation. There is the sorting area where the donations of food by individuals and supermarkets is carried out. Like items are packed into boxes and stored in a warehouse for subsequent delivery to smaller food banks according to their needs. I worked here for a few shifts but then moved to working in the kitchen.
Here, meals are prepared for sending out either in large containers, or individually packaged for distribution to individuals who might be ill or unable to come to a location where the food is distributed. So far, my job has been to chop vegetables or help to package the food. Typically, the food is frozen in appropriate containers, labelled with detailed information listing the ingredients, calorie content and so on and stored in a freezer room in the warehouse until delivery can be carried out. There are seven trucks which deliver food from the main location to smaller Food Banks and other agencies, so there is a lot of organizing and coordinating to be done. In 2021, close to 102,000 meals were prepared and distributed.
For people who can’t afford to buy groceries, there is a store onsite where they can come and pick up what they need. Here there are vegetables and fruit as well as eggs, milk, cheese and other fresh items. In order to be fair and stop people taking more than they need, there is a point system. A single person or family is allotted points according to their situation. Each item in the store is worth a certain number of points and people choose how they want to use up their points.
In the location where I work, there used to be a meal served in the dining room once a week for anyone in the community who wished to partake. Unfortunately, communal dining had to be stopped on account of pandemic restrictions but people can still come and pick up a packed meal to take away.
A large number of volunteers work at the Food Bank but obviously such a large organization cannot function without permanent staff. The kitchen has fulltime chefs and there are administrative staff who coordinate operations. The major part of funding for the Food Bank comes from private and corporate donors and indeed, I myself have been donating to the food bank for many years. There are also donations of food items by private and corporate donors. I really enjoy working here especially in the kitchen. My knife skills are getting very good as there are kilos of vegetables to be peeled and chopped. Just watching the speed at which the chef chops is a pleasure in itself!