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Ottawa Food Bank running low on supplies because of COVID-19

The food bank only has four days worth of fresh food left.
Ottawa Food Bank Logo. Photo / Ottawa Food Bank website.

As shoppers purge grocery store shelves, the Ottawa Food Bank worries it might not be able to keep up its supply of food donations for families in need amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the bank's director of communications and development Rachael Wilson, food donations have dropped since Ottawa announced its first case of the virus on March 11, making it difficult for the food bank to meet demand.

As of Sunday, the Ottawa Food Bank has about only four days worth of fresh food in its fridge and freezer left. 

"That's primarily because lot of people are buying food for their families right now," Wilson said. "We know that shelves are emptying quickly at grocery stores and people aren't putting food in our donation bins. We also know people are a little concerned about venturing outside of their homes more than necessary, so we understand that food donations will drop."

The Ottawa Food Bank serves about 39,000 people in a given month and typically gives three to five days of emergency food per visitor. But as COVID-19 remains an issue in Ottawa, the food bank is aiming to give out five to seven days worth of emergency food per person.

However, given that some businesses are suspending operations and may be laying off staff, there is concern the number of people visiting the bank could jump as families who hadn't used the service before will now be turning to it for help as they wait for government support to come through.

School programs that provide meals to students of families that rely on the food bank are also being suspended as the city deals with the outbreak. This means families will have an extra meal to worry about, Wilson says, which will have an impact on visitor volume.

"Facilities are being closed until about April 5 - that is our timeline as well," Wilsons said. "We'll try to provide as much food as we can until April 5, where we hope things will settle down and things will return to normal."

So, if food donation isn't possible, Wilson is asking for the public to think about donating money online through its website.

"Money goes really far with the Ottawa Food Bank," she said. "We work with our partners to be able to turn $1 into $5 worth of donated food, and they're working with us right now to be able to even purchase food, which is difficult to do at this time."

But as long as grocery store shelves remain empty and donations fail to meet demand, the food bank and its families will continue to feel the pinch.

"When you are taking care of your family and ensuring you have food in your house - we know how important that is - just remember that there are families out there that are struggling everyday as it is," she said. "An emergency like this just makes it incredibly stressful for families who already had very little on a regular basis. We hope that people will think of those families and we know that Ottawa is an incredibly generous community."

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