70,000 pounds worth of food donated for virtual fall food drive, London Food Bank officials say

The London Food Bank's Leathorne Street warehouse. London Food Bank

The generosity of Londoners was on full display Tuesday as officials with the London Food Bank tallied up the last of the donations to their annual fall food drive.

The 32nd edition of the drive, which began on Oct. 2 and ended on Monday, was largely virtual as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, as was the case with the food bank’s food drive in the spring.

And like the spring food drive, neither the pandemic nor the virtual aspect deterred local residents from pitching in.

In all, the food bank collected 70,757 pounds worth of food over the course of the 10-day campaign, said co-executive director Jane Roy.

That tally, higher than the nearly 66,000 pounds raised last year, includes physical food donations as well as nearly $140,000 in monetary donations that will be used to purchase food.

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According to Food Banks Canada, a $2.60 donation equals one pound of food, meaning the food drive’s monetary donations equal just over 53,000 pounds.

Read more: Fall food drive sees strong donations at halfway mark as London Food Bank visits creep up

“We’re really pleased. It never really surprises us, but we’re always really inspired by it… just by the generosity of Londoners,” Roy said.

The fall food drive comes months after more than 188,000 pounds worth of food was raised during the food bank’s spring food drive, a haul double that seen the year prior.

The significant increase was partially attributed to some hefty corporate donations from Cargill, Innovata Foods and Tillsonburg Custom Food, which donated a total of 40,000 pounds in chicken, meat and other food products.

“When springtime came along and we didn’t know what to expect, we were blown away by people’s generosity. And so… when we provided the opportunity again, people came through. And they’ve continued to donate all throughout the summertime, which has been good,” Roy said.

“We’ve seen the… actual food donations drop, but they’re now starting to increase again. And from our point of view, both are amazing. Whether it’s money or whether it’s food, whatever people prefer to donate, as we can definitely use both.”

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Read more: London Food Bank’s virtual spring food drive collects 188,696 pounds worth of food, monetary donations

Roy said the poundage raised during the spring and fall drives, as well as over the summer, will help the food bank into the new year.

However, it comes as the region continues to deal with a second wave of the coronavirus and its ongoing economic and societal impacts. In August, the London-St. Thomas area posted a 9.3 per cent unemployment rate.

The financial turmoil facing hundreds if not thousands of London families has resulted in increasing visitation numbers at the food bank, Roy says.

Although numbers dipped when income supports were brought into effect by upper levels of government — down from 3,500 to 2,300 families a month, Roy says — that tally has been creeping upward.

“What we’ve slowly started to see over the past few months is a continual 10 per cent increase (in visits),” Roy said.

“Through the month of September, it was 2,600 families a month, and we’re already facing a busy October. Last week, I believe, on one of the days, there was 180 families coming in.”

And that’s just at the food bank itself. Roy notes the food banks also help several other local agencies that have seen their own increases in demand.

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“You could probably add another thousand or two families a month that we help through other groups,” she said.

Read more: Poverty in Canada was bad pre-coronavirus. Experts worry what will come next

As a result of the pandemic, the food bank is currently only able to let one person, maybe two, inside at a time, meaning others visiting the food bank have to wait outside.

While temperatures are mild now, the frigid winter months are arriving fast, meaning outdoor lineups will soon be impractical.

Roy says the food bank is in the midst of making winter plans for its warehouse operations to help it meet the community need during what’s expected to be a busy winter period.

“The help that they’ve given us really helps us to do more,” Roy said of the donations.

“It helps other agencies, it helps us expand into the homeless lunch program for the pandemic… I think it’s really important for people to know it’s made a big difference.”