Gift of Giving Back needs help this time: food drive is hampered by Covid social distancing and people being away.

By Ryan O’Dowd: Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

August 3rd, 2021



The 10th anniversary was a banner year – then the pandemic took over and determined what we could do and what we couldn’t do. There is still a way to make it happen.

This Saturday the Gift of Giving Back will host Help Feed Our Kids: Drive-Thru Food Drive at the Burlington Center parking lot (777 Guelph Line, Guelph, and Fairview entrance) from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm.

Contributions will stock the shelves of the Burlington Food Bank and ensure the community’s most vulnerable are fed.

Robin Bailey, Executive Director with the Burlington Food Bank, acknowledged the GGB as their largest food drive and cited difficulties posed by missing events during the pandemic, despite tremendous community support.

“With no school food drives, no churches, and no Gift of Giving Back (in its traditional form) it’s been a really tough summer for us,” said Bailey. “We’re hopeful that [Saturday’s event] is going to get our stocks back up.”

They brought food in by the carton. It was a superb program that got way-laid a bit by a pandemic.

The Burlington Food Bank reports that 48% of their 2020 clients were first-time food bank users in their annual report, and the food bank serviced 39% more people than they had in 2019. Even prior to COVID-19 food bank reliance was trending up, Bailey says these trends will continue as long as the cost of living and minimum wage fail to keep up with inflation, to that end he wants to remove the stigma from food bank use.

“We think it’s important for our branding and marketing to let people know that we’re here for them if they do need our assistance. There’s a bit of a stigma and we’re hoping that that stigma is getting sort of worn down that people go, ‘you know what, it’s a community support that the community is behind and wants to help us, not go hungry and be able to help pay other fees, whether it be rent or their electricity or whatever it might be,’” Bailey said.

The GGB has raised 4.6 million pounds of food since its inception, which they calculate is a community benefit exceeding $1.8 million. The GGB, founded in 2005 by Jean Longfield, has become such an integral part of the community that the City of Burlington raises its flag at city hall to usher in the period of giving and community work.

The annual GGB food drive is touted as the largest of its kind in Canada. From its inaugural 2007 event up until 2019 GGB would pack gymnasiums full of food bins with the help of community sports teams and students. COVID-19 put a halt to their traditional food collection method in 2020, but that didn’t stop the GGB.

The GGB operated out of the Burlington Center in 2020 collecting food for those quarantined. Previously their list of contributions included those to the Compassion Society, Food4Life, the Carpenter Hospice, Salvation Army, the Women’s shelter, and the Burlington Food Bank.

The Gift of Giving Back has always been a team effort. These girls are smiling when they see the chart showing the amount of food the brought in posted.

Despite their perseverance in 2020, the GGB’s donations (measured in pounds) were down 77.9 percent from the previous year’s haul and 84.3 percent from their all-time high in 2018: (a national record for food donations at the time, a feat acknowledged by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau,

Social distancing and safety protocols will be enforced at the drive-thru.

The GGB requests contributors stay in their vehicle while volunteers unload donations for a safe contact-less drop-off. The volunteers will be wearing personal protective equipment.

They encourage young donors to wear their sports jerseys and spirit wear, decorate their cars, and make signs. Such community spirit will bring a sense of normalcy to the proceedings that in previous years would yield enough food to fill 3 high school gymnasiums.

Young athletes would work with their teams in a good-natured competition to cart in a haul of goods so vast transport trucks were required to shift them to distribution centers.

For obvious reasons that isn’t happening this year, however, young people still played a vital role at the Burlington Food Bank, Bailey explained.

“It was students that really propelled us through the first parts of COVID. They were the ones that were deemed to be a little bit safer to contribute,” Bailey said, “without them, we wouldn’t have had the ability to stabilize and serve the community as well as we have throughout 18 months of the pandemic.”

The 2021 event will be less showy than some of GGB’s memorable offerings but Bailey, Longfield, Tate and their respective teams are still there and still working, and the donations are needed, particularly in uncertain times.

Ryan O’Dowd is a Sheridan College journalism student who is part of a federally funded Local Journalism Initiative that will have him reporting for the Gazette well into 2022.  He is a Burlington native who plays the guitar.

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