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Good to Know: 10 facts about the Food Bank of York Region

We answered readers questions such as: What is it? What do they do? Who runs it?
May 1, 2020
Aileen Zangouei

The Food Bank of York Region is a name that crops up in many stories about local food donations and food pantries.

It has been around since 2012, which is relatively new compared to some other local food pantries that have been around for 30-plus years across the region.

Here are some questions about the organization we've answered for our readers:

What is the Food Bank of York Region (FBYR)?

The FBYR is a food distribution or collection hub serving non-profits that provide food in their programs across the region. In other words, the FBYR is not a direct service agency in a sense where they are directly dealing with people in need. The FBYR operates to provide for agencies such as food pantries, churches, or other programs that give food to those in need.

How did it come to be?

According to its website, the FBYR is a program of LifeCorps International. LCI was operating in Guatemala in 2004, helping with the construction of a health-care facility to bring care to people of northern Guatemala, who had limited access to adequate health care. Since the inception of LCI, the goal was to bring the community service home to York Region.

In 2011, that goal would be ignited when a bakery in Aurora allowed LCI to take their “end-of-day” inventory of nutritious bread and sweets and distribute it to food pantries or other programs providing for those in need across the region. With a network of agencies, LCI was able to accept the bread donations on a weekly basis -- and LifeCorps Food Share was born; now called FBYR.

Only months after the bread pickup and delivery program was active, the FBYR started accepting and delivering non-perishable consumables to eight community food banks across the region.

The FBYR has multiple refrigerated trucks, one refrigerated cargo van, two refrigerated straight trucks, and other resources which makes them capable of efficiently picking up bulk donations from various stores, and distributing them to their network of agencies.
Who runs the FBYR?

Alex Bilotta is the founder and chief executive officer at LifeCorps International and FBYR. He works six days a week and runs everything from the logistics, food procurement, community partnerships and fundraising -- and even gets the truck to make deliveries himself.

This is what the FBYR means to Bilotta: “It brings meaning to life … while in Guatemala in 2007, what I saw changed my life and I knew that I wanted to help people.”

In the early days of LCI, Bilotta had been making deliveries to a housing co-op in Newmarket, and he mentioned how he would always notice a resident sitting outside just watching him make his deliveries. They had not spoken to one another during his regular Saturday deliveries, until one day, the woman told Bilotta, “I get to eat today.” This moved Bilotta, and motivated him to continue helping his community.

Sarah Smith is the office manager and volunteer co-ordinator. She also runs the public relations programming, social media and communications, helps with the fundraising, and assists with agency relations.

This is what the FBYR means to Smith: “I grew up in poverty as a child, and I know what it was like to go without meals. I know what it was like to not eat, so I can relate to that need, I lived through it,” Smith said, explaining her motivation to help her community, and to make sure food gets to those who are in need.

FBYR has part-time drivers to pick up the donations and to deliver them to agencies, and one volunteer driver. Part-time drivers who just started with the FBYR are off-duty firefighters.

The FBYR also has four to five volunteers, and is seeking more.

What does it do?

“We’re here to provide for agencies that provide food,” Bilotta said, adding there’s a lot of background work being done before the food gets distributed to food pantries, agencies and non-profit housing co-operatives across the region.

Bilotta and Smith partner with big chain retailers such as Walmart, Longos and Costco. The purpose is to take their “surplus” perishable and non-perishable foods to the FBYR facility, sort them into boxes which will weigh around 25 pounds each, and then deliver them to their agencies.

The FBYR also participates in several of Feed Ontario’s Fresh Food Programs that includes beef, chicken, pork, turkey, milk and eggs. The One More Bite program partners the with Metro and Food Basics stores. Food Banks Canada, which operates at the national level, offers programs to FBYR, including the Fight Hunger Spark Change campaign -- which partners the FBYR with the 14 Walmart locations across the region.

Food banks, food pantries, and other services that provide food to those in need can join the FBYR network as affiliate members, by registering on their website.

food bank worker sorts food

Sarah Smith, communications coordinator at Food Bank of York Region, sorts food in the huge warehouse in Vaughan.| Susie Kockerscheidt/Torstar
What is Feed Ontario?

Feed Ontario was formerly known as the Ontario Association of Food Banks before it rebranded in February 2019. Over the last 35 years, food banks have evolved from traditional food cupboards into multi-service agencies for community building and change. Feed Ontario, the new brand, is a reflection of the transformation and of the collective action of their network of food banks and partners.

The goal is to work together to provide nutritious emergency food support, while working to create long-term change they believe will one day end hunger and poverty in Ontario.

FBYR, along with other direct member food banks, pay an annual membership fee to Feed Ontario. The fee is based on a sliding scale related to the capacity of the organization.

Food Banks Canada has one direct members per province, including Feed Ontario.

Is FBYR a government agency?

No. FBYR, Feed Ontario and Food Banks Canada are not government agencies. They are CRA registered charities.

While a select few may receive some municipal support, food banks are largely dependant on the ongoing and generous support of their community and partners to deliver their essential services.

FBYR is a direct member of Feed Ontario, making the FBYR an affiliate of Food Banks Canada.

Who funds the FBYR?

FBYR runs on the donations from the community, the Regional Municipality of York, as well as government grants.

What’s the cost to food pantries?

Food pantries that wish to become an affiliate member of FBYR pays a service fee after getting one year for free. FBYR service fees cover labour costs that go toward pickup, delivery, warehousing and boxing.

Food pantries have to report their hunger count through a Link2Feed software program to determine how much food and funding is needed to be allocated “fairly” to throughout the network.

The hunger count reported by Food Banks Canada and Feed Ontario annually helps establish an up-to-date understanding of hunger in Canada in order to support advocacy for change.

Are all York Region food pantries partnered with FBYR?

No. Not all food banks throughout York Region are affiliated with FBYR.

“We are not here to compete, we are to complete,” Bilotta said, adding that their purpose is to get more food into the hands of those who need it.

According to the King Township Food Bank, they are not part of the “family” of FBYR because membership is a choice, “and we have chosen not to join.”

“The King Township community support their Food Bank generously, and we provide grocery cards in addition to or instead of actual food. This is unusual, but works well for us, a relatively small community with a monthly distribution,” a representative from the food bank said.

What is the benefit of FBYR to their network of agencies?

According to Smith, the benefit of being affiliated with the FBYR “means more food and service support for the agencies and food pantries.”

“They can devote less time to sourcing food, and more time to their process of handling food and delivering it. There’s more variety of fresh and frozen food supply for them to have access to, rather than the generic non-perishables. Plus, we deliver it. They don’t have to spend resources and time to go out and shop, especially during COVID-19, and not have to risk themselves o their staff and volunteers.

“Also, we can take in bulk quantities; most agencies don’t have that capacity. We can take it on to disperse in smaller quantities to all the agencies in our network. Occasionally, we also get funding that we can pass along to support them,” Smith said.