• Jessica Whelan

Moving in a new direction

kids' hands packing up non-perishables in a cardbord box
Time to clean out the pantry before the holidays!

Phoenix Preworn recently organized a holiday clothing swap for our neighbourhood, with the aim of helping families share both their holiday spirit and their festive clothes. We also wanted to help out in our community by raising money for The Compass Food Bank.

I felt disappointed and a bit sheepish when we only raised $40, but when I spoke with The Compass’ Communications & Fundraising Manager Melinda Prain, she reassured me that there is no amount of money too small to make a difference. I learned some surprising things from our in-depth conversation, so read on to find out who and how you can help with a donation.

There’s no one type of food bank customer. Often job loss or health problems disrupt people’s lives, and having a reliable source of food allows people to spend their income on essential bills like rent or heat. In short, food banks can help keep people from losing their homes. The majority of clients are working families, rather than people living on the street as you might assume. And although Port Credit has a reputation as a wealthy neighbourhood, don’t believe the myth that no one experiences homelessness here.

It’s important for us to recognize that there’s nothing shameful about someone asking for help when they need it. Many people experience hunger, yet don’t use food banks out of embarrassment.

Quick stats for The Compass during the period of Jan 1 - Nov 30th, 2021:

  • 26% increase in food bank demand this year over 2020

  • 2573 individuals have received food so far

  • Around 12,000 lbs of food/week distributed

  • 28,000 take-away meals served

  • Of their client-base, 265 are seniors, and 733 are children

For reference, the entire population of nearby Riverside elementary school is 318 children. Imagine that without support from our food bank, more than 2 entire schools full of kids are at risk of going hungry in our community.

(These numbers are even higher in Toronto, with demand up 47% - increases of 5-10% are the norm - with the majority of those being new customers - a 61% increase over 2020. Why? Mostly because of low wages and job loss/unemployment. More than half of these people are going hungry for a whole day or more every month.)

Most food banks operate on a monthly schedule because they lack volunteers or systems, which makes it much harder on families. Budgeting food for a family over the course of a whole month sounds extremely difficult! That might explain why 16% of Toronto children using food banks go hungry at least once a week.

Because The Compass has a small staff and hundreds of volunteers, they’re able to provide food on a weekly basis, removing some of the stress that comes with using a food bank. Clients can place orders for food on the website or by phone or in person, and then come to pick them up the next day.

Racks of canned food in front of refrigerated shelves
What's left after a record day of pickups

During my visit yesterday, Melinda shared a story of generosity that left me speechless. A mom and dad were taking a tour with their young child and saw all the donated diapers stacked up and waiting to be added to orders. The mother expressed relief that there was no shortage and people would have enough for their babies. When she was told the lot would only last 1-2 weeks, she asked how many diapers people needed in a year. The next day she called to say her family would cover the cost of diapers for the next 3 years, and needed a dollar amount so she could write a cheque.

Shelves full of diaper packages, more diaper boxes stacked in front
Enough diapers for only 1-2 weeks

It’s not just about big individual donors. Lots of people in Mississauga and other areas donate either occasionally and or on a monthly basis. Donations come in as small as $5 to $10 up to thousands of dollars.There are ways to make a difference other than giving money. You can host a Food Drive, for example. Here’s a short list of local business donors:

  • The Root Natural Health Clinic just ran another successful year of The Maple Syrup Mission (donating over 100 holiday breakfast bags for families)

  • The School for Creative Arts is running a food drive now until December 18th

  • Local restaurants have donated hundreds of prepared meals, including:

  • Pizza places like Amadio's, Domino’s, La Villa, Little Caesars and Pizza Forno

  • Mario’s Barbecue

  • Rogues

  • Solstice

  • Colossus of Rhodes

  • Park Royal Fish & Chips

  • Patna Kebab House

(Unfortunately some of these donations have been in decline, most likely due to restaurants being hit so hard by the pandemic. If you’re a restaurant owner, please help if you can!)

One recent change to The Compass’ operations is that clothing donations are no longer accepted (except in October for the winter survival drive, during which only brand new sleeping bags and outerwear can be donated). This policy was enacted because in the recent past, some people were donating clothes that couldn’t be used. All these things needed to go into storage until Safetynet in Oakville accepted them and had volunteers sort and give the good quality items to families in need.

If you do want to donate clothing, toys and household goods in good condition, please contact SafetyNet or Mission Thrift Store. If it’s difficult for you to drive to a donation centre, Phoenix Preworn will pick up your GUC/EUC (good-excellent used condition) kids’ clothing donations and drop off any adult clothing to SafetyNet at no charge. (If you need help downsizing or decluttering your home, there are ways to do so without adding to our landfills. Local business From Overwhelmed to Organized is a great place to start.)

This holiday, The Compass will help over 400 families have Christmas together. Instead of a toy drive, The Compass has raised $70,000 in President's Choice and Walmart gift cards. Though donations of toys, toiletries and food are always wonderful, it's even more effective to give cash since it can be allocated for things needed most and empowers families to have more autonomy and to choose the things that are right for their children and their families.

In 2022, The Compass hopes to be able to make cooking oil consistently available for their clients. It’s a pantry staple in most people’s homes that’s rarely donated, and many people need it to be able to make their meals. Whether you drop off bottles of olive oil or vegetable, canola oil, or make a cash donation, there’s a huge unmet need we can all help with!

Here’s a short wish list of the other items needed most right now:

  • Canned protein other than tuna (chicken, salmon, ham/SPAM, and especially sardines)

  • Nut butters (peanut, almond, cashew, etc.)

  • Chunky soup and pasta sauce (with lots of protein and veggies)

  • New and sealed unused personal hygiene items (toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, soap)

  • Empty plastic 500ml water bottles to repackage laundry and dish detergent

For the past 20 years, The Compass has been operating out of a small space with two floors. In Q1 2022, the centre will move to the east end of the neighbourhood where it will have a 6,000 square-foot main floor with 68 apartments upstairs in social housing built by Indwell. All of these units will be given to vulnerable people who are experiencing homelessness or are living below the poverty line. Should Covid protocols allow, The Compass hopes to open their many in-person programs back up when they move to their new location at 425 Lakeshore Rd E.

Every single one of us could become a client at a food bank. Circumstances can turn in the blink of an eye. Both The Compass and SafetyNet are huge supports for our community. They enable people to keep clothes on their backs and nutritious and healthy food on the table, so that people can hang on to their homes during tough times. Preventing homelessness and all its causes makes everyone’s lives better.

How much of this article was news to you? Like me, are you fired up by all this knowledge to help more now? Who else is helping end hunger in our community, and how? Share in the comments!

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