…But they do want your lunch money. On Thursday, February 26, Second Harvest volunteers will be at TTC stations asking Torontonians to donate the money they’d normally spend on lunch to help feed the hungry in our city. The campaign is in its eleventh year, so most TTC riders are familiar with it, but in the morning rush there is little time to stop and find out what Second Harvest is all about.
Second Harvest is a charity that collects excess perishable food and delivers it to social services agencies across the GTA. The food is donated by grocery stores, food manufacturers, hotels, restaurants, caterers, trade shows, and events and is given to places like shelters, drop-in centres, and soup kitchens, most of which are in the downtown core.
The organization started very small in 1985 when the famine situation in Ethiopia captured the world’s attention. Two Toronto women, Ina Andre and Joan Clayton, thought that we shouldn’t forget those who are going hungry right here while excess food is being thrown out. They took matters into their own hands and started picking up surplus fresh food from restaurants and grocers and delivering it themselves to shelters.
Almost twenty-five years later, Second Harvest is headquartered in a combination office/warehouse space in Downsview where their hardworking staff manage the insanely intricate logistics of retrieving food from donors, distributing it in time to those in need, and fundraising enough money to support the entire operation that has grown to provide enough food for fifteen thousand meals per day.
Unlike a food bank, eighty percent of the food given out is perishable and none of it is purchased. And even though the items are surplus, they are not leftover or old. Second Harvest does not collect prepared food that has already been served or products that are expired; they receive excess that would otherwise go to waste. For example, Whole Foods Market contributes excellent quality produce every day because they are a luxury store that strives to sell only flawless merchandise. Also, several vendors at St. Lawrence Market donate on Saturday afternoons since the market is closed from Saturday at 5 p.m. until Tuesday at 8 a.m. Dairy manufacturers can’t ship products to retail stores within three weeks of their expiry dates, but it’s enough time for Second Harvest to rescue and distribute them.
Believe it or not, all of the scheduling is done manually by one dispatcher, Sam Sing. He somehow accomplishes the miraculous task of getting deliveries to about 250 social services programs using only seven climate-controlled trucks that also have to pick up all the food donations. All seven trucks are on the road from Monday to Friday with two working on the weekend.
Torontoist had the opportunity to assist on a delivery run in the west end of Toronto and we dropped off food at several youth homes and homeless shelters. At each place, the residents came out to help carry the boxes inside. It was great to see firsthand how much Second Harvest is helping some of the most vulnerable among us.
Despite being such an integral part of hunger relief in Toronto today, Second Harvest does not receive any funding from the government or the United Way. All operating costs are totally funded by donations. Keeping just one of their trucks on the road for a year costs seventy thousand dollars, while the cost of buying a new one is one hundred and ten thousand. Several agencies are currently on the waiting list because all seven trucks are working at capacity. Adding more trucks to the fleet helps bring Second Harvest closer to their goal of making sure no one goes hungry in the communities they serve.
All photos by Henry Regehr.