The question box: how do we get the food we give out?


This is number two in a blog series around the question box we put up at the food hamper program. A few months ago, we put up a question box in our lobby so people could ask questions about the program that they were maybe hesitant to come up and ask the staff. Last time, we answered the question “why do you give out expired food?” Today I’ll be answering another question: “how do you get this much food?”

The question box in our lobby

The answer is simple: we are able to distribute as much food as we do because of the generous donations we receive from businesses and organizations in and outside Waterloo Region. We are also fortunate to have space and equipment to unload and store food safely.

The stereotype of food banks in general is that they only give canned or non-perishable items. We do value the canned goods we have donated, and canned items can be part of a nutritious diet. Unfortunately, some of the time items like canned soup and beans in sauce can be high in sodium and other preservatives, and people can find them boring or uninspiring if that’s all they have in their pantry. Thanks to generous donors, we can provide fresh produce, dairy items, and bread to supplement the canned items that last longer on our shelves.

Every Monday and Thursday we receive big shipments from our friends at the Food Bank of Waterloo Region. These include non-perishable items, like canned soup, pasta, and tomato sauce, as well as fresh produce, from their community partners that can include things such as vegetables, fruit, juice, yogurt and other dairy products. Volunteers and staff spend a good part of the day sorting through the tote bins that the orders come in, and disposing of damaged or spoiled products and saving the good items for the people who come to us for help.  There are usually lots of pleasant surprises on each skid we receive!

Volunteers sorting through our Loblaw’s shipment

We also get phone calls from local farms like Pfenning’s Organics, Herrle’s Market, and Lincoln Mushroom Farm when they have extra produce. Pfenning’s, Herrle’s and Lincoln Farms have each donated over 20 000 pounds of produce this year alone. Salvador, one of our drivers, also takes a staff member or volunteer with him every Wednesday to visit a community farm in Milton that grows food exclusively for food banks in the Toronto area. This farm, which prefers to remain anonymous, has donated over 53 000 pounds to us this year. We’re lucky to be on their recipient list. Around this time of year, we’re getting a lot of melons, corn, mushrooms, and eggplant from local providers. We give out recipes with items people may not know how to cook; while for some cooking eggplant may be second nature, others get it in their hamper and are at a total loss. Most people get excited when there’s a recipe with a new ingredient so they can try it out.

We also get lots of bread and baked goods from local bakeries. Grainharvest Breadhouse, Schaff Foods, and Nova Era Bakery donate extras they have, often allowing us to give whole grain or whole wheat options in hampers. This year, Schaff has donated over 10 000 pounds of baked goods, Grainharvest over 2500, and Nova Era over 6500. Bread is a staple item for many people, and it’s especially needed now that kids are back in school and parents need to make lunches for them.

It is often hard for us to give people their full servings of dairy products, so we are grateful to Mornington Dairy Co-operative (who have donated over 8500 pounds of dairy products) for regularly donating Goat’s Milk. This allows us to offer milk to one and two person families, whereas cow milk we usually reserve for larger hampers.

Finally, Ammar Halal Meat Market, located close to us on Lancaster Street, donates hundreds of pounds of halal meat to us each year. Most of the other meat we receive contains pork or pork byproducts, and it’s important for us to be able to give people meat if they only eat halal. To learn more about this, read Nadir’s blog here.

Another reason we’re able to give out the amount of food we do is because of the capacity we have at our warehouse. We are lucky enough to have four chest freezers, a walk-in cooler, and a walk-in freezer. We also have a forklift and a loading dock, both of which allow us to unload large orders from the Food Bank or Loblaws, and two trucks that we can use to pick up stuff ourselves. Many other programs that operate out of community centres or churches may not have the storage space or capacity to receive all these donations.

Our walk-in cooler

It’s important to us to be able to give balanced and healthy hampers to people who come in for food. We appreciate the generosity of our donors because they allow us to give out fresh produce, dairy, bread, and meat. They also allow us to better accommodate different dietary needs.

Have a question of your own?  We would love to hear it and would be happy to answer it.  Just comment or email us and let us know what’s on your mind.

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