University of Guelph-Humber’s Trick or Eat event has been cancelled due to concerns about COVID-19 while demand at food banks has increased throughout the pandemic.

Trick or Eat is an annual collection of non-perishable food and household items by students at the university.

The event is usually held on Halloween and is organized by students in Managing the Not-for-Profit Enterprise, a course taught by Patricia Peel at University of Guelph-Humber. Peel says each year around six students in the course organize and recruit others for the annual event.

The student life department helps plan and execute the Trick or Eat event. Jessica Pilfold, student life coordinator, says 250 lb of non-perishable food and household items were collected by over 20 participants at the event in 2019.

A group non-perishable food items on a counter top

Non-perishable food and household items collected by University of Guelph-Humber students at last years Trick or Eat event (Photo by Shannon Ho).

The proceeds from Trick or Eat last year were donated to North York Harvest Food Bank.

Demand at North York Harvest Food Bank has gone up 37 per cent from March to August of this year. “The numbers for the summer have been huge,” said Sarah Watson, the food bank’s director of community engagement.

Food insecurity was a concern in the GTA prior to the pandemic. A 2019 survey of over 1300 clients at 51 food banks in Toronto and Mississauga found respondents skipped meals to pay for rent, transportation and phone bills.

The survey also found that 32 per cent of people did not eat for an entire day and its authors said parents adopt coping strategies to keep children from going hungry.

“Me, I can go without. But my kids, I need to make sure they are good and that’s why I use the food banks,” said one survey respondent.

Food insecurity has only gotten worse since the beginning of the pandemic according to data calculated by Steven Ayer on behalf of the Toronto Foundation.

The Toronto Foundation brief says the number of people who reached out to the city’s community and social services help line (211) about food insecurity rose sharply during the first weeks of the pandemic, from around 15 a day in February to 174 a day in early April.

Watson says programs like the Canada Emergency Response Benefit provided greater food security in Toronto during the pandemic, but not for the most vulnerable. Watson would like to see a higher minimum wage, improvements to social assistance and more affordable housing to grow food security in the city.

The pandemic has also caused North York Harvest Food Bank to change how it distributes food to clients. Normally clients can choose their products, but Watson says, “we just can’t do that now because it’s not safe.”

The food bank is currently distributing pre-packed hampers from a hockey arena to allow for physical distancing.

The hampers are designed to last a household three days and they can be picked up twice a month says Henry Chiu, director of development and marketing at North York Harvest Food Bank. “We’re only there to provide emergency food,” Chiu said.

In a statement, Councillor for North Etobicoke Michael Ford said some residents say they have had difficulty accessing or affording food during the pandemic.

“I have coordinated with the City of Toronto’s Emergency Operations Centre and the Mayor’s office to ensure local and city-wide foodbanks remain operational by increasing volunteer compliments and providing home delivery, especially for seniors and those with mobility restrictions,” said Ford.

Ford said that he will keep referring residents who reach out to his office to food banks and will continue to make food security a priority.

In the meantime, North York Harvest Food Bank has resorted to a virtual food drive to make up for cancelled events like Trick or Eat.