Metro Vancouver fresh food bank sees 10-fold surge in demand during pandemic

A Metro Vancouver food bank program that provides fresh food to families in need has seen a surge in demand over the pandemic.

The CityReach Care Society’s Food for Families program is now helping 10 times the number of families it once was, and has now had to stop accepting new clients.

Executive director Simon Gau said having to limit the number they help is “heartbreaking."

“Based on our infrastructure, how many refrigerated trucks that we have, our cooler space, our freezer space, our actual footprint here, we can only process so much food every single week,” he said. “We serve 1,000 families every week, which equal(s) about 3,000 people every week.”

Gau said that’s up from 100 families a week before the pandemic.

“I don’t think that the pandemic maybe necessarily caused a ton more need, but it exposed the need,” he said. “The people that were on the edge of vulnerability were just thrust into the deep end of need, and now with inflation rates rising, it’s just nutty, and people are having a hard time putting healthy and fresh food on their tables to support their families.”

The program provides fresh food including produce, dairy, and meat nearing expiration dates and donated by grocery stores and farms.

“One hundred per cent of the food that’s been donated to this program has been rescued food,” Gau said. “This is food that would be ending up in a landfill.”

They currently distribute food at five sites in Metro Vancouver, and have also had to vastly increase their volunteer workforce since they began operations in 2009 to make that happen. They’re hoping for more volunteers, along with financial donations, and would like to expand even more to meet the need.

“We are trying to see if we can branch into other communities, and so we’re looking to buy a warehouse in Surrey,” Gau said. “It’s just a matter of finding the right community partners, the right donors that want to get on board.”

The program has three distribution sites in Vancouver, along with one in Surrey and another in Port Coquitlam. Gau said they are able to refer people to other community partners until they’re able to grow, but they’re hoping to get the help they need to be able to do more.

“We’re dealing with refugees and migrants and we’re dealing with vulnerable seniors…at-risk kids, youth that live in this area that need a leg up in the world, and we’re really trying to provide that kind of hope through a meal to them,” he said. “We’re not just giving out eggs, we’re not just giving out fresh food, we’re giving out hope.”