With your support, we serve over 15,000 people that are hungry each month! As you can imagine, it takes A LOT of food to be able to provide meals for our neighbours in need.
Through generous donations of individual and corporate donors, we receive 100,000’s of pounds of food. But all of this food isn’t ready to go out to the food banks – it must be sorted for quality first.
I caught up with Kadian Clarke, a staff member at North York Harvest – she works with groups of volunteers to sort through thousands of pounds of food. Since January, she’s trained and sorted with over 1,000 people including employee groups, schools, sports teams as well as families.
“My favourite part of the job is teaching people about the foods in the food bank as well as building awareness of hunger in our city.”
It turns out in order to sort all of this food; there are many rules. The reason for this is so we can provide the best possible food to people in your community. That means we can’t accept damaged, unlabeled, expired or half-eaten foods (yes, all of these items come into the warehouse on a regular basis and must be sorted before they reach the food bank).
“There are 23 categories of food that go out to agencies.” Kadian tells me as she sets up the sort room for her next group. These categories include baby food, rice, nutritional supplements, snacks and proteins – others in higher demand than others. “The important part of sorting them into these categories is that we can better serve the clients with food they need. This way agencies don’t get a box of random items ranging from tuna to pudding cups when what they really needed was canned beans.”
We are extremely thankful for all of the donations that we receive, but some of them can be completely strange. I asked some of the staff what items they’ve seen through the years that made them raise an eyebrow.
We definitely see the wacky and the weird in our bins on a regular basis for example:
- Graham crackers from a company that went out of business years ago
- Vegetable soup that expired in 1995
- Lawn fertilizer
- Caviar that was 10 years past the best before date
- Rotting eggs
- Cut off shorts
- Expired military rations
- Hazmat suits
Thankfully, most donations received are exactly what our clients are looking for in a food hamper: items like canned fish, canned tomatoes, beans, rice and baby food. It’s important that we take the time to sort and categorize these items. Unfortunately sorting through unwanted items is a lot of extra work. And it takes valuable time and money to dispose of anything that is damaged or expired.
Volunteers come in to sort with their coworkers or friends and end the session knowing more about hunger in the city and why their help is so essential. The thing that Kadian sees volunteers take away from the food sorting experience is a sense of accomplishment within the community. “After each sort session, we share how many pounds of food were sorted and how many families they are helping. This way the volunteers get to see their hard work pay off first hand. The groups feel great about being able to make a difference.” And make a difference they do.