Ottawa Food Bank’s Story

When the pandemic reached Ottawa in March, we knew our organization’s role would be vast and ever evolving. Another thing we knew is that we could not face this challenge alone.

Thankfully, we haven’t had to, as we have an amazing network of emergency food programs across the city that were all equally committed to working hard and adapting their operations to ensure vulnerable members of their communities get through these extraordinary times.

Our network of member agencies immediately stepped up and responded with several solutions. Most of them adapted their flow of service to keep themselves, their volunteers, and their clients safe. Some programs switched to an appointment-based service and shifted to a prepacked hamper system to reduce as many touchpoints as possible. These frontline heroes have worked incredibly hard to ensure families and individuals what they need.

Without this network, 112 programs strong, there would be so many in our city who would go without. We value the relationships we have with our member agencies and are truly honoured to work with them through this trying time.

A concern that became increasingly prevalent was that we needed to reach the families and individuals who were self-isolating. For years we have known the lack of home delivery is a gap in the system and is something we needed to examine. This crisis quickly elevated that need. Thanks to our incredible member agency partners at the Salvation Army Booth Centre, who were ready to mobilize with their own vehicles, we were able to develop a plan to quickly start a home delivery program.

The Salvation Army helped with filling that gap with this vital service for the first 6 weeks after the pandemic struck Ottawa. After that period, the United Muslims Organizations of Ottawa-Gatineau helped us continue our program for 18 weeks. We cannot thank both these organizations enough for their support and cooperation. We learned a lot of their processes to help us move forward.

Since then, we have fine-tuned the process to pilot a delivery program of our own. Between March and September 2020, we have made over 1,000 deliveries to nearly 500 households. We are successfully reaching some of Ottawa’s most vulnerable in their time of need.

A key component in our daily operations at the Ottawa Food Bank and to the success of home delivery is confidentiality and preserving dignity for food bank clients. As such, when we deliver directly to someone’s home, it is in an unmarked vehicle with non-branded boxes.

We know that asking for help from a food bank can be hard. We know that getting to a food bank when faced with additional barriers such as mobility, age, and/or health can feel impossible. With the help of our incredible member agencies we are pleased to now be in a place where we can further help the Ottawa community by addressing this need and making food insecurity a little less daunting.

This story originally appeared in Hunger Report 2020. To learn more about the Ottawa Food Bank, visit their website.

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To support the Ottawa Food Bank, donate here.
To support the efforts of food banks across Ontario to help families impacted by COVID-19, donate to Feed Ontario.