COVID-19: Toronto’s libraries transformed into temporary food banks

by | Apr 21, 2020 | News

COVID-19: Toronto’s libraries transformed into temporary food banks

by | Apr 21, 2020 | News

Nathaniel Smith, News Reporter

The Toronto Public Library teamed up with local food banks to distribute food to the growing number of people in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Daily Bread Food Bank and North York Harvest Food Bank are the latest partners of the Toronto Public Library to use library branches to distribute food to families affected by the pandemic.

The pop-up food banks are offering items that are limited.

Ryan Noble, the executive director of the North York Harvest Food Bank that opened the first library location on March 25, told Et Cetera in a telephone interview using library branches expands their reach..

“Organizations like North York Harvest food bank are distribution hubs, so we collect food, we collect funds, and then distribute them back out into the community through a network of agencies.” he said.

Contributions to the agency were wiped out as multiple business closed down to combat the spread of COVID-19, putting a difficult task on food banks.

“We reached out to the city directly and from those calls the concept of using the libraries emerged,” Noble said. All Toronto library branches were closed because of the pandemic and that became an opportunity.

“We sat down at a table, and it was really the quick thought of can we do this? We help the community all the time and move products within our space so it was an easy decision to make,” said Gail MacFayden, a Toronto Public Library area manager.

MacFayden wrote about the process of making library branches into food banks.

The process in distributing food from libraries had to meet government and medical guidelines.

“Normally when you come to one of our food banks it is set up under what we call the ‘choice model’ that tries to simulate a general store experience so people have some degree of choice in what they are selecting,” Noble said.

“We weren’t able to do that in this modern reality,” he said. “In the library we tried to move people through a food space as quick as possible so we could maintain social distancing.”

Social distancing might have changed the flow of what a traditional food bank operates but the effort was successful.

“The big thing is we got physical spacing while people wore masks and gloves encouraging each other to stay well and stay safe,” MacFayden said.

Food banks have temporarily stopped using volunteers but there are others ways Torontonians can help.

“Advocate for changes so food banks don’t need to be here as an essential service during a crisis, or at all,” Noble said. Food and financial donations can also be done on the North York Harvest Food Bank website.

 The Toronto Public Library will continue hosting public food banks until the pandemic is over.

“It was an amazingly positive event, we all had the opportunity to do something meaningful,” MacFayden said.