A Community Steps Up: Orangeville Food Bank
When the pandemic caused a spike in need, executive director Heather Hayes and a small army of staff and volunteers worked overtime.
As the coronavirus pandemic set in and shuttered businesses laid off staff, community food banks saw a surge in demand. “Normally we support about 700 people a month,” said Heather Hayes, executive director of the Orangeville Food Bank. “There was a huge spike in March and April, up to 900.”
Demand settled down when the federal government introduced income support programs, said Heather, but it rose again as the second wave took hold. Food banks expect the uptick to continue for at least a year as individuals and families exhaust their financial resources.
Because of the pandemic, the food bank advised volunteers older than 70 and those with pre-existing health conditions to stay home. But as these at-risk volunteers stepped back, the community stepped up. The food bank’s list of volunteers swelled by about 50 per cent to roughly 130 people – with more waiting in the wings. Every day these volunteers break down larger donations, sorting and shelving, lifting more than 30,000 pounds a month. They also fill clients’ orders, preparing them for delivery or walk- and drive-through pickup.
When restaurants and caterers were closed in March, many of them redirected their inventory to food banks. Donations included such things as fresh chicken that had to be cooked right away. “Local caterers and restaurants made butter chicken, pot pies, all kinds of great things,” said Heather. “We also expanded hamper delivery to seniors’ apartments.” In one case, a woman came out onto her balcony in tears, grateful for the fresh vegetables she had been unable to go out and get on her own.
With the goal of limiting the spread of Covid by distributing food at centralized locations, the Orangeville Food Bank joined forces with other local food programs to form Dufferin Food Share. This initiative was up and running at just about the same time as the Orangeville Food Bank was taking possession of its new building, which needed extensive renovations.
For some time the food bank had been hoping to buy a building to replace its cramped Centennial Road quarters. When the right building came up for sale on nearby Commerce Road, the decision was made to take the plunge.
And once again, the community stepped up. Resources that had been gathered and stored at Centennial Road were temporarily shifted to the Salvation Army’s New Hope Community Church on Riddell Road.
In the meantime, local trades and companies volunteered to get the new building in shape. They put up walls, gravelled the driveway, and installed wiring, plumbing, a walk-in freezer, coolers and an emergency generator. Volunteers sanded, painted, and more – while not skipping a beat in their mandate to provide food to those in need. Then, once the new quarters were ready, everything was moved again.
For years, Heather has witnessed the generosity of the community, but this year her gratitude is overwhelming. “When you pick up the phone in this community, no matter who you call, the answer is always ‘What can we do to help?’” she said. No hesitation. No hemming and hawing. Just yes.