By AMARACHI AMADIKE, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
As the Bluff’s Food Bank (BFB) prepares to mark 20 years of operation, its volunteers and workers worry about the steadily increasing demand for their services as Toronto’s affordability crisis shows no signs of slowing down.
Beach Metro Community News reported earlier this year that there has been a 40 per cent year-to-year increase in BFB client visits, but Beth Moore, the organization’s long-time secretary and board member, said that this number has now climbed to an increase of 60 per cent in the past few months.
“We’re proud of the way the relationships have worked to serve a need, but we’re sad that there is a growing need,” said Moore.
Bluffs Food Bank, which serves clients from 12:30 p.m to 2:30 p.m on Thursdays at Birchcliff Bluffs United Church on East Road, has assisted Scarborough-Southwest residents since 2003 when five churches – Birchcliff Bluffs United, St. Nicholas Anglican, Birch Cliff, Fallingbrook Presbyterian, Scarborough Baptist and Fallingbrook Heights Baptist – banded together to tackle pressures of food insecurity in the community.
“Those five churches continue to serve it today with volunteers, serving on the Board of Directors, and financially,” said Moore. “So, it’s been a real achievement to continue that relationship of five churches of different denominations.”
In an effort to go the extra mile, the food bank also started an income tax service in 2004 that has saved many clients money on service fees that other companies would have charged.
Although their mission began with just 24 families (42 individuals) being served due to financial hardships, just over a year later, their BFB service increased to 1,861 people.
Unfortunately, this number has continuously climbed through the years and today BFB is serving 1,200 families – comprising 3,000 people – every month.
In the past year, as many as 30,000 people have walked through the BFB doors seeking assistance. It’s been reported that 6,000 of those are children while 2,500 are seniors over the age of 65.
Rev. Angela J. Cluney, who is the Minister at Fallingbrook Presbyterian Church and also serves on BFB’s Board of Directors, said that this increase in food bank usage is happening “across the board”.
“It is going up significantly. There’s a greater need than ever for food” said Cluney. “With rising inflation, rent cost, healthcare needs, people are unable to pay for food when they have so many needs before them”
With multiple sources reporting less than one per cent of food bank users being homeless, it’s become evident that this is a problem that can easily affect anyone. BFB’s clientele includes many families who have lost jobs. But they also serve people who have jobs but cannot make ends meet because of Toronto’s current cost of living.
“We’ve had a lot of people that have maybe never had to ask before, come and ask for food,” said Cluney.
The Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and welfare rates that haven’t kept up with inflation have also affected the rise in food bank usage with many being forced to sacrifice health demands for food – or vice versa. Coupling Toronto’s existing needs with the influx of refugees seeking help, it is no surprise that many food bank shelves are running empty.
The shortage has even hit Daily Bread – the main distributor for many of Toronto’s food banks – as it has had to reduce the amount of food it can give affiliate food banks.
BFB now finds itself in need of donations of eggs, soups, cold cereals, fresh dairy, meat, bread as well as fresh vegetables.
However, Cluney said s that cash donations are also vital to their operation as it gives them the freedom to better cater to the needs of their clients – some of whom can’t eat certain items due to religious beliefs.
With a fundraising goal of $120,000 by September 2024, BFB is hoping to put the funds towards important items that people don’t usually donate to food banks such as shampoo, “or a special kind of halal meat” for Muslim clients.
Cluney said that although the organization has budgeted appropriately, if needed, BFB can add to the budget through donation money. This allows for investment in a variety of items that enables clients to be left with a sense of dignity as they will have more options and an ability to create a proper meal for themselves.
“There has been a very positive response so far,” she said of the call out for donations. “We are encouraged and hoping that [the financial donations] will continue in the next couple of months–especially as we come closer to the anniversary.”
BFB’s 20th anniversary event is set to take place on Saturday, Sept. 9, from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Birchcliff Bluffs United Church, 33 East Rd.
Known to promote the idea of “neighbours helping neighbours”, the anniversary event carries an open invitation as all residents are encouraged to come celebrate together with music, games and food.
As a 100 per cent volunteer-based organization, Bluffs Food Bank is always in need of more staff. Anyone who would like to join their team can do so by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org
Food donations can be dropped off at Birchcliff Bluffs United Church on Wednesdays from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m.; Thursdays from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.; and Fridays from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.
To make a taxable financial donation, please visit https://bluffsfoodbank.com/donate/
— Amarachi Amadike is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Beach Metro Community News. His reporting is funded by the Government of Canada through its Local Journalism Initiative.