Jennifer McLaughlin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Food Bank of York Region (FBYR) is constantly looking for ways to expand access to healthy food for York Region residents facing food insecurity.
Almost the same number of individuals who accessed a food pantry or meal program during the pandemic continue to rely on the FBYR and its community partners for assistance. Recent record-high inflation rates are not helping.
Since 2020, the FBYR’s food distribution program has grown by over 100 per cent to provide food for over 3 million meals annually.
The FBYR is the regional food bank and mobile food pantry with over 80 community partners, including community food pantries, social service agencies, and housing cooperatives. The network supports food programs in the nine municipalities of York Region, serving more than 23,000 individuals across 7,000 households.
The FBYR established a home food delivery program during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure access to nutritious food during the lockdown. With the delivery program ending, the organization is maximizing its reach by adjusting its strategy.
Recognizing that community housing locations tend to experience higher levels of food insecurity, the FBYR is expanding its partnerships to support more of them.
“Most community housing locations are low-income families and individuals, or seniors, and a lot of the individuals require the help of financial social assistance like ODSP,” said Alex Bilotta, founder and CEO of the FBYR. “It can be hard for these individuals to make it regularly to a food bank or meal program because of transportation, health or disability issues, or other factors like having small children.”
The FBYR began its partnerships with housing cooperatives in 2013. At the time, food donations exceeded the community partners’ capacity for distribution, so the organization decided to expand its network of community partnerships into cooperative housing for seniors. The initiative proved to be very successful and grew from there.
Currently, the FBYR works with 27 community housing and cooperative locations. In 2021, the FBYR distributed $1.79 million of fresh, healthy perishable and non-perishable food to their on-site pantries benefitting 1,700 individuals.
Bilotta expressed that volunteers are central to the ability of the FBYR and its community partners to support residents’ needs effectively. As the network of community partners grows with additional community housing and cooperative locations, the need for volunteers continues to grow.
“Without volunteers, the program wouldn’t be possible,” said Bilotta. Each location requires a lead volunteer to handle administrative aspects of the location’s food distribution program, plus others to help with the operation of the on-site pantry.
To apply for an on-site food pantry at your community housing cooperative or building or to explore opportunities to support the FBYR, visit fbyr.ca.
Photo: At the FBYR warehouse, a team of volunteers sorts, packages, and loads donated perishable and non-perishable food into refrigerated trucks for delivery to community partners throughout York Region (Photo supplied by the FBYR.)