Food Bank of York Region gift card program will help fill the gap for thousands of residents

Jennifer McLaughlin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The distribution of grocery gift cards will help ease the strain of rising costs for community members facing food insecurity.

The Food Bank of York Region (FBYR) received $75,000 in grant funding from the 2022 Emergency Food Security Fund. Created by the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food (AAFC) and distributed by Food Banks Canada (FBC), its purpose is to support Canadians affected by the COVID-19 state of emergency.

“Our Emergency COVID-19 Home Delivery Program created on May 4, 2020, found that over 70 per cent of the applicants were first-time food bank users,” said Alex Bilotta, founder and CEO of FBYR.

The organization applied for the grant with the hope that it would give more families, seniors, children, and individuals access to healthy, nutritious foods. Community partners and home delivery recipients will receive the gift cards in addition to their regular food support and delivery.

Unfortunately, says Bilotta, this grant will likely be the last funding FBYR sees from the emergency program.

FBYR is a regional food bank and mobile food pantry. It services over 75 community partners who support more than 23,000 clients and 7,000 households through local food banks, homeless shelters, women’s shelters, social housing, home delivery programs, and other agencies that provide food and meals.

“Relief and gratitude will probably be what our clients will be experiencing once the grocery cards are delivered. The cost of food has risen significantly, we’re living in a housing crisis, and inflation is at an all time high. A lot of our recipients are struggling to make ends meet,” Bilotta explains. “ Our hope is that the addition of these grocery gift cards can help fill the gaps in the food they’re receiving, allowing our clients to ensure they have everything they need for themselves and their families to survive, until their next visit or delivery.”

The number of individuals and families struggling with food insecurity is growing. FBYR confirms that community partners are seeing an increase in Ukrainian refugees. The region expects this trend to continue as it aims to provide a safe haven for Ukrainians fleeing the conflict in their home country.

With a 55 per cent drop in monetary donations during FBYR’s spring fundraising campaign, Bilotta fears that FBYR will have to lessen its service to its community partners without more support at Thanksgiving and Christmas. FBYR welcomes donations of food, money, or volunteer support from individuals, families, or businesses able to help.

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