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‘There’s something we have to fix’: Food bank demand increases

Between 2020 and 2023, monthly visits to the food bank have more than doubled and the total number of people being served has almost tripled, says food bank official

Bradford’s Helping Hand Food Bank board and volunteers were left with plenty of food for thought after their annual general meeting.

The food bank held their AGM for members Monday evening at St. John’s Presbyterian Church, where they elected members to their board of directors, reviewed their accomplishments and finances for 2022, and more.

Possibly the biggest highlight of the evening was discussion about “the big move” as Brian Febel, chair of the board of directors, refers to the food bank’s transition to their new location in the town’s social services hub at 177 Church St..

“I’m happy to share that we’ve secured a lease with the town of Bradford that is a win for the community and is a win for everybody sitting in this room,” Febel said.

The exact cost of the lease is not yet public, but Febel and Carolyn Khan, executive director, were able to share details of the 4,600-sq.-ft. (427sq-m) space the food bank is hoping call home sometime in late October or early November.

The shopping area is designed to resemble a typical grocery-store layout with coolers and freezers around the outside and non-perishables in the middle, and an exit near the checkout desk.

“The purpose of how this was designed was to give our clients a normal shopping experience, the same experience they would get if they were to go to any regular grocery store. It’s meant for them to be able to choose what they want, versus what we have today,” Febel said.

The entrance is planned to be at the back of the building to provide some privacy for clients who may need to line up outside.

“People tend to shy away from getting help if they feel they’re being judged or watched,” Khan said.

There will also be a washroom available to clients, a board room and staff area with a kitchenette, a warehouse with double doors for easy loading plus a walk-in freezer.

While the hub will offer connections to other services, such as CrossTrainers Canada, WOW Living and Bradford Out of the Cold Cafe, the food bank won’t need to share any of its footprint.

In addition to the new hub, Febel said the food bank is trying to shift to better make use of technology.

“It is our goal to move into a more digital mindset, thinking about how do we use technology not only in the food bank, but also communicating with our clients, our partner vendors, everything is done through technology online. How do we get donations when hardly anyone carries cash anymore?” he said.

New faces

Both of those transitions will fall partly to the five board members elected at the meeting including three new members — Gavin Maclean, Claire Jones and John Koning — as well as two re-elected members John Blake and Grace Wittig.

Another new addition is Ward 1 Coun. Cheraldean Duhaney who will be replacing Ward 2 Coun. Jonathan Scott as the town-appointed representative.

Khan thanked Scott for his help over the past two years, especially when it came to researching and writing the food bank’s bylaws and constitution as well as grant writing and fundraising.

“We did very well over the past few years with his help and knowledge and we are sad to see him go, but know that Coun. Cheraldean Duhaney will try to fill his shoes,” Khan said.

Scott thanked the members and said it was “an honour” to support the food bank.

“We’ve seen client visits increase to numbers that I don’t think we would have expected, and sadly, don’t want to see, but I think we’re all pretty blessed to be able to contribute in this way to our community,” he said.

Demand continues to rise

During their year in review, Khan shared year-over-year numbers for the month of May that paint a picture of just how much that need has increased.

  • May 2020 saw 206 visits serving 504 people
  • May 2021 saw 226 visits serving 601 people
  • May 2022 saw 320 visits serving 920 people
  • May 2023 saw 517 visits serving 1,335 people

This means that between 2020 and 2023, monthly visits to the food bank have more than doubled and the total number of people being served has almost tripled.

Khan said the food bank opened 47 files for new clients in May of 2023 alone.

“Those numbers are massive and they’re not just something we’re seeing in Bradford, we’re seeing it everywhere — everywhere in Simcoe County, everywhere in Ontario, everywhere across Canada. There’s something we have to fix here,” she said.

In addition to providing services on site, the food bank also provides delivery to 28 family units twice a month, for people with disabilities or who otherwise can’t access the physical location.

Financial update

While dollar donations were down from 2021 to 2022, Gaetan Mercier, treasurer, said grants helped to make up the difference.

In 2022 the food bank was awarded $150,000 from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, which is expected will mostly go towards their transition and $100,000 from the Community Service Recovery Fund, which is expected will pay for two full-time staff.

Febel said an increase in food donations in 2022 also helped the food bank spend less on buying food for clients.

Also helpful was the $2,200 in membership fees to Feed Ontario in 2022, for which Khan estimates the food bank received $110,484 in funding or food in return including: 2,533 kg of milk, 163 kg of eggs, 907 kg of frozen chicken, and more.

Khan said the membership also provides the food bank access to Loblaws and Walmart food drives as well as access to some grants.

Mercier said the food bank was able to increase savings by $294,000 and ended 2022 with net assets of $974,000, which Scott emphasized was the result of three years of saving in preparation for the move.

Febel also cautioned members that the financial balance sheet will take a hit of “somewhere between $350,000 and $450,000” to cover the costs of transitioning to and outfitting the new space.

“To get to where we want to get, it does cost money,” he said.

Executive decisions

The year 2022 also marked the first time the food bank hired an executive director.

“It was an amazing year as executive director, but what I did find is that it was a lot more project managing than I thought it would be, so it was a great learning curve for and I think it helped me build my skill set,” Khan said.

She added that the food bank received a grant allowing her to continue in the position for another year and said she’s honoured and excited to do so, especially with the upcoming transition.

“I think that the move to the new facility will be almost like a butterfly effect, in that every good thing we’re hoping for will happen when we move,” Khan said.

She expects the food bank will be able to talk with clients one-on-one and will have their own facility at which to meet instead of borrowing areas around town, and she hopes they will return to a shopping model from the current food-bag model implemented during the pandemic.

Previously, clients were assigned points based on the size of their family (single, couple, small family, large family etc.) which they could use to shop for food items based on their assigned point value.

For example, a can of soup might cost one point, but a one-kilogram jar of peanut butter might cost two points.

Farm friends

Jody Mott, executive director of the Holland Marsh Growers’ Association, also provided an update on their efforts to support the food bank, including partnerships on packing and trucking.

“At the end of the day the farmers are the stewards of the land and their job is to feed people and they don’t want to see anyone anywhere go hungry,” Mott said.

She explained the association represents 126 farms in the region covering 7,000 acres (2,833 hectares) of marsh and 8,000 acres (3,237 hectares) of highland farms.

“We are the soup and salad bowl of Ontario so we are the heart of the vegetables coming out of Ontario and Canada, so we need to make sure people in our community can eat,” Mott said.

Khan said Holland Marsh farmers provided the food bank with more than 4,536 kg of fresh potatoes, onions and carrots in the past six months.

The Helping Hand Food Bank was incorporated on March 13, 1991, and currently operates out of 123 Moore St.

For more information, including ways to donate, visit their website

Michael Owen

About the Author: Michael Owen

Michael Owen has worked in news since 2009 and most recently joined Village Media in 2023 as a general assignment reporter for BradfordToday
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