Churches have long provided support to people facing food insecurity, with food banks, food pantries and deacon’s cupboards springing up across the diocese. Now, with food prices on the rise, the food bank of St. Paul on-the-Hill, Pickering is expanding its capacity to meet the higher needs of its neighbours.
Established by members of the parish in 1990 as a temporary outreach program, St. Paul’s Community Food Bank has seen local demand for its services grow exponentially, especially in recent years. From 7,800 clients in 2012 to 14,000 in 2021, the food bank saw a huge spike in need last year, feeding 20,886 people in 2022.
“We’ve probably doubled in size since I started in August, and I anticipate it’s only going to get worse as 2023 continues,” says Lindsey Morrill, the food bank’s director. “Christmas was very, very busy, and then we anticipated a little bit of a lull in January, but that did not happen. We’re increasing to about 100 people per day.”
Despite that growing need, St. Paul’s food bank is the only one in Pickering, a city of 99,000 people. The next closest option is in Ajax. “There are no other resources around us. We are basically the heart of the community of Pickering. Without us, they won’t have access to any other food,” says Ms. Morrill.
She joined the food bank last summer, taking over from Marg Jocz, the previous director. She handles everything from fundraising to connecting with local organizations, registering new clients, keeping the shelves stocked, updating the website and more. “It was starting to supersede a volunteer position,” she says. “I’ve always had a very strong passion for not-for-profit. I think my first food drive was when I was seven. To be able to turn my passion into a career was a huge step in the right direction for me.”
The food bank is open to clients on Tuesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to noon. Clients can access the food bank twice a month, receiving canned goods, pantry staples and fresh produce. “We’ve added an extra visitation if needed, just to kind of temporarily ease some of the pain from inflation,” says Ms. Morrill.
The food bank receives support from the parish in the form of volunteers, funding and guidance. Members of the congregation can designate gifts specifically to the food bank, and Ms. Morrill has a strong relationship with the Rev. Canon Stephanie Douglas-Bowman and the churchwardens. “We do get really great support from them, whether it be monetary, whether it be food, whether it be just support I need for resources,” she says.
More than 40 volunteers help the food bank function, along with partnerships with many local businesses, churches, community organizations and individuals. Ms. Morrill says that support has been vital in helping the food bank adapt to rising food costs even as its client list grows. “We have been very blessed with some incredible support, so we haven’t had to pivot too much – minor things here and there,” she says.
Thanks to a new deal with a nearby Loblaws store, this year clients will have access to more high-quality meat, produce and prepared meals like shepherd’s pie. “They donate all of their food items that they otherwise would have thrown away, as long as it’s frozen on or before the best-buy date,” says Ms. Morrill. “Whatever they have that they didn’t sell that week, it now comes to us.”
This arrangement fits perfectly with her goal to expand the kinds of food the food bank can provide to its clients. “If we pivot to fresher foods and better quality of foods, it’s more sustainable than handing them a box of canned salt and sugar,” she says.
Besides food, what the food bank’s clients most need is help finding employment. “There’s a massive language barrier for, I would say, about 80 per cent of our clients. We have a lot of refugees. We have a lot of people from Ukraine that are just off the plane. They’re looking for help,” she says. The food bank provides pamphlets and information about other resources that are available in Pickering.
As she looks ahead to the end of her first year as director, Ms. Morrill says her next goal is to help the food bank reintroduce itself to the Pickering community and draw attention to the growing problem of food insecurity. “There are a lot of people that don’t know we’re here,” she says. “To be honest, I don’t think people realize how bad it is until they see it. Our food bank faces a main road, so you can see the lineup if you drive past. A couple people have stopped and asked what it’s about.”
Despite the growing need for food banks and concerns about worsening food insecurity, Ms. Morrill finds hope and inspiration in the clients themselves. “Just hearing the stories of some of the clients, it really pulls at your heartstrings,” she says. “I have two young kids, and I can’t imagine being in the position of not knowing where their next meal’s going to come from. The fact that I get to be a part of helping that is very inspiring.”
To learn more about the food bank and offer support, visit www.stpaulsonthehillfoodbank.ca.