With a clear focus and limited resources Robin Bailey makes the Burlington Food Bank work

News 100 blueBy Pepper Parr

September 15th, 2020


Part 2 of a series

Robin Bailey has been running the Burlington Food Bank for three years.

When he got there it was known as Partnership West – an organization that struggled a bit with its role.

Food Banks have become a part of life in every community and university campus.

Sorting food 1

Volunteers are the life line that keeps the food bank running day in – day out.

Domenique - over boxes

During the interview with Robin Bailey a truck arrived with boxes of frozen chicken. Did we mind if the space we were in was used to get the meat into the freezer asked Dominique? She’s in there behind the boxes she emptied. They she cut up the cartons so they could be recycled,

In Burlington they became a life line for many when the 2008 recession hit the world.

Middle income households are now finding that they need to turn to food banks. The lock-down brought on by the Covid pandemic changed once again the role that food banks had to fill.

Bailey points out that now there are dozens of food banks popping up.

At the same time the larger food banks are creating an infrastructure through which they can share ideas and resources and act as a collective to bring pressure to bear on the various levels of government.

Food Ontario connects most of the food banks in the province and has a seat on Food Banks Canada.  Bailey is the Ontario representative on that organization.

The Burlington Food Bank doesn’t get a nickel from the City of Burlington; doesn’t get a nickel from the Regional government even though that level of government handles social welfare issues.

There is no money from the province nor is there any money from the federal government.

It takes $330,000 a year to run the Burlington Food Bank.  Much of that money is used to buy food when donations fall short.

While Bailey would like something in the way of financial support he has been around long enough to know that there are always strings attached to what comes from any level of government.  They are very good at the grant game.

“We can be much more nimble and turn on a dime if we have to when we rely on the resources we create for ourselves.” said Bailey.

Like the commercial world there is some consolidation taking place in the food bank industry. Burlington’s Open Doors now has most of its food bank operation in the hands of the people at the Burlington Food Bank.

Industry prefers to work with the one organization and not have to work with half a dozen organizations who would like to access the food that supermarkets, commercial farm operations and produce organizations that are able to donate large amounts of food.

The Milk Marketing Board and the Egg Marketing Board people are two prime examples.

While there is a lot of consolidation taking place there are all kinds of small local groups that want to collect food from their membership. It gets a little confusing at times.

Bailey is one of those people who has solid experience, an attitude and set of values that are needed to do this kind of work.

It isn’t easy.

Scot and Bailey - film shoot

Scott Cameron getting ready to record the daily podcast Robin Bailey does each day of the week.

Bailey usually does a podcast each day of the week – telling people what his organization has been able to do and what he sees as the really high-need areas.

He has realized that food scarcity is just one part of the picture. Homelessness is another.

And then there are those situations that come out of nowhere – Covid was one of them.

The Food Bank found that they were getting calls from people who were quarantined and not able to get out and shop for food and didn’t have anyone within their circle who could do this job for them.

The Food Bank was suddenly serving groups of people that would not in their wildest imaginations see themselves as needing  to go to a food bank. Actually they didn’t go to the food bank; Bailey’s team delivered the food to the doors of households that were not permitted to leave their homes.

The base on which the Burlington Food Bank operates is a team of volunteers that show up regularly to prepare the food they have on hand into packages that get delivered or are ready to be picked up.  Add to that the drivers that deliver.

Bailey has grown an organization that is well run, seen as a leader in its field realizing that the need for food banks is going to be with us for sometime.

Part 1 of a series

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