Montreal food banks in crisis

By Jessica Murphy on June 26, 2008

May was tough for Montreal food banks.

Moisson Montreal, Canada’s largest food bank, saw a 30 per cent drop in donations. Sun Youth, for the first time in its history, has had to launch a summer food drive.

The squeeze is coming from all sides: increased food prices combined with rising gas prices and more demand for food bank services.

“Usually, these are months of abundance,” said Johanne Théroux, Moisson Montreal’s executive director. But donated food pallets have dropped from 50-to-60 a week to 10. “It’s worrying,” she said. “At the end of the line, individuals will be affected.”

Moisson Montreal is supported by a network of nearly 200 agri-food suppliers and distributes food to over 200 organizations that help feed more than 100,000 Montrealers.

The companies that support Moisson Montreal simply have less to donate as they struggle to offset the rising cost of fuel used to transport produce. 

Sun Youth, which feeds about 200 people daily, is spending $40,000 more this summer on food and may still face rationing. “It’s a crisis, in essence, because we’re running out of food,” said communications coordinator Nicolas Carpentier. “(The warehouse) is not completely empty, but we’re getting there slowly but surely.”

Food banks are now looking for other ways of ensuring stocked shelves.

Moisson Montreal has called on food producers to copy the example of Quebec milk manufacturers, who currently set aside six per cent of production for charity. Théroux is also encouraging corporate food drives.


“We’re getting together on this to find solutions. We don’t have power when it comes to donations, and any requests to the government will take a while,” Théroux said. “So the short-term especially is a concern.”

One Montreal food bank has found a creative solution.

The Zero Food Waste Network at the NDG Food Depot provides enough fresh fruits and vegetables weekly for three different NDG organizations, including their own.

The new program has helped offset the drop in donations and increased need they’re facing this year. “I went up to Moisson Montreal this week and they didn’t have a single loaf (of bread),” said Colin Baker, the program’s coordinator. The Zero Waste program has allowed them to rely less on food from Moisson Montreal. “Right away, this program has had an affect on other food banks,” he noted. 

The premise of the program is simple: collecting surplus food from local merchants, mainly so-called ‘ugly fruit and vegetables’ – produce that is edible but slightly damaged and normally discarded. The Depot has been able to collect seven-to-10 boxes of produce each day from just one store. Baker is now trying to get the larger neighbourhood supermarkets to sign on to the program.

Like Sun Youth and Moisson Montreal, the NDG Food Depot has felt the crunch. One of their staple items – rice – has tripled in price, and the need for food within the community has increased. This program has offset that – to a point.

“People who use the food bank are coming more often,” said Baker. “They’re feeling rising prices more than anything. It’s affecting use. It’s very disturbing, just this whole year. If this trend keeps up, we may have to open an extra day. 


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