Volunteers at St. Ann’s Food Bank distribute close to $600,000 in food donations annually. Michael Swan

Food bank adapts to COVID challenge

  • November 14, 2020

Undeterred by challenges unique to this year, the volunteers at St. Ann Parish Food Bank in Toronto have worked hard to ensure no individual or family in need of its services has been left behind.

As the church was forced to shut its doors in March due to COVID-19, and with food bank leaders Colette and Carlos Carreiro stuck in Portugal on vacation, Fr. Wilson Andrade recalls the e-mail inquiries about their food bank pouring in from those in the community unable to make ends meet. They all wanted to know if the food bank would also close.

Andrade quickly got on the phone and called the local city councillor who assured him the food bank, which operates out of the church basement, qualified as an essential service and would be allowed to continue operating.

“We could not close our doors to those who come to us because for me that is not being a Christian,” said Andrade. “I prayed a lot about it. In fact, I opened the Bible and the reading said, ‘I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat.’ That for me was a call to address this need to feed the poor. It broke my heart and I said, ‘This is what we need to do, and we have to do it.’ ”

With a few adjustments to days and hours of operation to meet social distancing and gathering restrictions, volunteers have continued to put food in the hands of the needy. Throughout the pandemic the parish has continued to serve between 100 and 150 clients weekly, with many bringing food back to their families. The parish distributes close to $600,000 in food donations every year.

With clients calling in to pre-book their pickup, Andrade says, the experience allowed more time for him connect with those in the community at a point they seemed to need it most.

“I’m really happy in my priesthood to be doing this because I met people and was able to listen to their stories,” said Andrade. “It’s not just about the food bank or giving support. Since we extended the time with each person, I could sit with them and listen to their story, and it was more of an emotional time of listening and showing people they are more than just numbers. They are human beings.”

Upon their return from Portugal in July, the Carreiros were able to get right back into the swing of things and in September the parish was able to transition back to regular Saturday morning distribution with no pre-booking. 

The Carreiros say part of their job is to create an atmosphere that removes the stigma around receiving food support.

“Walking into a food bank for the first time can be very daunting, but I think our group of volunteers have made it a very welcoming experience,” said Colette, who takes care of the administrative duties while her husband fills in wherever needed.

As the team prepares for the winter months, it’s not completely certain what new challenges may be faced, but volunteers are happy and willing to do whatever they can to continue to service the St. Ann community. 

“When I started volunteering years ago, I went in with the idea I was going to change the world,” recalled Carlos. “I learned that you don’t need to change the world, you just need to help.”

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