Food banks prepare for Thanksgiving as demand soars amid coronavirus pandemic

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WATCH: Across Canada, there has been a dramatic spike in the number of people experiencing food insecurity. This trend has been exacerbated since the start of the pandemic. Katherine Ward takes a look at a group of Toronto businesses who are joining to help people in need this Thanksgiving and who say they remain committed to the issue in the weeks and months to come. – Oct 11, 2020

The vice-chair of Edmonton’s food bank says he decided to take matters onto his own land when COVID-19 shut down Alberta in March.

The uncertainty of how food banks would operate and an unprecedented spike in demand prompted David Benjestorf to decide he would farm just over nine hectares he had purchased six years ago on the western edge of St. Albert, Alta.

Read more: Trudeau announces $100M for food banks amid coronavirus pandemic

Just in time for Thanksgiving, Benjestorf says he’s donating some of the 43,000 kilograms of food he harvested on his farm this month in an attempt, along with food banks across the country, to re-create some sense of normalcy for families who may need it for the fall holiday.

“It was an escape for us to go out to the farm, and have a semi-normal life,” Benjestorf, who also works as a lawyer, said in a phone interview.

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“Out in the fresh air, getting your hands dirty … that normalcy was a gift.”

Benjestorf’s fresh carrots, cucumbers, corn, radishes, kale, and assortment of lettuces are being delivered to families this weekend, said the spokeswoman for the food bank.

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The “normalcy” during chaos is what the food bank is also hoping to provide as families facing economic hardship gather in their bubbles around the dinner table on Monday, said Tamisan Bencz-Knight.

“Whatever we can do to support whatever normalcy we can within the household, especially people that are struggling right now, we think is good in and of itself,” Bencz-Knight said.

She said the food bank has had to scramble to readjust the way it hands out food during the COVID-19 pandemic as demand has hit record-breaking numbers and distribution has had to adhere to public health orders.

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On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the federal government is doubling $100 million in previously announced aid for the country’s food banks. As Thanksgiving and Christmas approach, he said, food banks will be under more pressure to feed those who can’t afford groceries, or are unable or afraid to venture out of their homes to get them.

READ MORE: Food banks’ demand surges amid COVID-19. Now they worry about long-term pressures

Statistics Canada says food insecurity in households across the country has been significantly higher during COVID-19 and has affected nearly one in seven Canadians.

“This is based on a scale of six food experiences, ranging from food not lasting before there was money to buy more, to going hungry because there was not enough money for food,” the agency says.

A report published by Toronto-based Daily Bread Food Bank in September says that since the start of the pandemic, visits to food banks in that city have increased by almost 25 per cent.

“Prior to the pandemic there were an average of about 15,000 visits to Daily Bread member food banks per week, and now that average has climbed to close to 20,000,” the report says.

March was also a record-breaking month for Edmonton’s Food Bank as up to 25,000 people were given their food hampers, said Bencz-Knight.

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“The sad thing is that we’ve had a lot of disasters recently,” she said.

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“We’ve had tornadoes … fires, floods, and then more fires. In a way, those disasters were little sprints. It’s the same thing that we’ve experienced right now, except this is (a) marathon.”

Bencz-Knight, Benjestorf and Calgary’s largest church, Centre Street Church, are reminding Canadians ahead of Thanksgiving to donate as much as they can because demand for food continues to grow.

The church has announced it’s expanding its Central Campus for better food distribution to meet increased need.

Read more: Canadians asked to host meals and events to raise money for community food centres

Chris Hatch, CEO of Food Banks Canada, is also reminding Canadians that Thanksgiving is the time many food banks would usually hold food drives across the country.

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He is encouraging Canadians to call their local food bank and ask them how they can help.

“If you can afford to make a donation, please do so.”

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship

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