A volunteer at Good Shepherd Ministries provides a plate of turkey, potato, vegetables and stuffing to be served at this year’s Easter meal service. Photo provided by Adrienne Urquhart

Easter demand shows rise in food insecurity

  • April 12, 2024

While it might seem a good-news story that Good Shepherd Ministries served more than 1,200 meals to hundreds of grateful guests on Easter Sunday, it merely highlights a staggering trend in the rise of food bank usage in Toronto and beyond.

Last year’s “Who’s Hungry” report by the Daily Bread Food Bank and North York Harvest Food Bank showed that there were 2.53 million food-bank visits in the city in 2023, a 51-per-cent increase year-over-year and the highest annual surge ever reported. Additionally, one in 10 people in Toronto are reported to have been relying on food banks to survive, a figure that has doubled in the past year alone. 

It’s something that comes as no surprise at the Good Shepherd in downtown Toronto, which has reported immense growth in need over the past few months. 

“Compared to last year, if I’m not mistaken, we have seen at least a 20- to 25-per-cent increase in the number of meals that are being served on a daily basis,” said Aklilu Wendaferew, executive director at Good Shepherd Ministries. “In 2022, we were serving an average of about 700 meals per day and now we are at 993. The number of people coming to access our service has been steadily increasing for the last year or so for sure.” 

This year’s Easter feast served out of the cafeteria at Good Shepherd was presented by a group of around 50 volunteers, with shelter staff spending hours assembling each element of the meal in order to satiate every guest. Deviating from the traditional community meal menu, guests were treated to a full turkey dinner, complete with all the trimmings. 

“We served close to 1,247 meals if I’m not mistaken. It was quite a large number but is was still not something that was too unusual for us,” said Wendaferew. “That number is substantial as we served from 12 (noon) to 2:30, and we served around 300 takeout meals as well.” 

The generosity can be attributed to the Good Shepherd’s generous benefactors. 

“We’re blessed to have the trust and support of the general public to continue our work, our mission and our ministry here in Toronto,” Wendaferew said. “Good Shepherd has always relied heavily on community ventures to support our operations here at the ministry and we have always enjoyed the support of members of the Catholic community, various church and school groups which always contain people from different walks of life. It was very heartwarming to see so many people coming together to be a part of this special meal and support the homeless on that day.”

As Good Shepherd continues to ramp up service in the face of rising demand, other charitable organizations such as ShareLife are investing in ways to support programs like the shelter community meals, which are served for free every day. 

“In the current environment, it is important that organizations such as the Good Shepherd Centre (and St. Francis Table, Knights Table and others,) are putting our faith into action,” said Arthur Peters, executive director of ShareLife, the Archdiocese of Toronto’s charitable fundraising arm. “In 2023, ShareLife responded to the growing need for food by providing over $600,000 to support food and meal programs across the Archdiocese. Twenty-eight parishes and organizations (including Good Shepherd) received funding through Catholic Charities and the St. Vincent de Paul with funds provided by the ShareLife campaign.” 

Peters said ShareLife recognizes the growing need for food security exists and plans to review the potential to provide further assistance again this year. 

After a collective sigh following the packed service, Good Shepherd staff and volunteers were filled with a sense of gratitude and humility, a range of emotions that, coincidentally or not, echo those commonly found during the Easter season. 

“People gathering together is part of the Eastern tradition. It’s a season that’s all about hope and renewal, and for people to say: ‘I’m here to support you, there’s hope,’ even after all of the hardships people are experiencing, is a sign of hope and renewal in itself. That is what we tried to give people this Easter,” Wendaferew said. 

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