Salvation Army’s Toronto’s warehouse is stacked to the roof with pallets of donated food: the only problem is, they are lacking volunteers to sort it.
Baked beans, canned vegetables, and even Nanaimo bars are sitting on pallets waiting to be sorted. Two large walk-in freezers are piled with Hungry-Man frozen dinners and produce.
Shortly before Christmas, the Salvation Army experienced a substantial surge of food donations. John Halbert, who recently took over as director of operations, has never seen a surplus like this before. This is a good problem to have, but the food is beginning to spoil, and the rest is nearing its expiry date.
“The clock is ticking on the food that is sitting in the warehouse,” said Halbert in an interview. “We still have this giant backlog of food that needs to be sorted.”
Previous management had diverted large shipments of food directly to Toronto food banks, where it could be distributed to people immediately. Halbert, who was unaware of this former practice, had all the food brought to the 46,000 square foot warehouse.
The sorting process involves checking the food for damage, checking the expiry dates, and categorizing the food to prepare it for shipping to the 60 food banks and shelters they supply.
This surplus comes at a time when many Torontonians are struggling to keep up with their expenses, and are turning to food banks to ease their financial burdens.
Graph of food bank usage in Toronto from 1995-2018
Barb Macfarlane is a single mother of two who has a child with a health concern that uses up a large part of her income. She has been dependent on Toronto food banks for the last 20 years, and visits them at least once a month.
Macfarlane has since struggled with mobility issues and is solely reliant on the Ontario Disability Support Program, which helps people with disabilities who are in financial need pay for expenses like food and housing.
This support does not go very far, however, as Macfarlane is left with only $150 a month to get by on.
“Without the food bank, I would not be able to put food on the table as my rent takes up most of my income,” Macfarlane said. “I find unfortunately I need it again more and more as my income just barely covers my basic needs.”
According to a survey completed last year by Daily Bread Food Bank, 58 per cent of people living in Toronto had missed a meal in the last three months to pay for something else.
Back at the Railside distribution centre, Halbert is trying to get volunteers to help sort the food.
“We want to get this food sorted so we can get it out to people that need it most,” Halbert said.
Halbert is asking for anyone who is capable to volunteer. Whether you are a company who does corporate volunteering, or an individual who has a few hours to spare, he said they need all the help they can get.
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