Government Program to Redistribute Surplus Food to Food-Insecure Households


This Thanksgiving, amidst the many challenges still facing the country, many of Canada’s farmers and food producers may have one particular reason to feel thankful. The Surplus Food Rescue Program, a $50 million federal government initiative, will redistribute approximately 12 million kilograms of surplus fruit, vegetables, meat and seafood from Canadian producers which would otherwise be going to waste.

This is food that would normally have been sold to the restaurant and hospitality sector. However, with many restaurants now closed or operating at reduced capacity due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many producers have been left without one of their key markets, and sales to grocery stores are not expected to be enough to make up the difference. The Surplus Food Rescue Program ensures that producers and food processors are paid for the cost of producing this food, while redistributing it to community food banks.

“Canadian farmers, ranchers and fishers don’t produce some of the best food in the world to let it go to waste,” said Ron Lemaire, President of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association (@CPMA_Ron, @CPMA_ACDFL). “We know many communities are facing a change in demand for food services due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When so many people are worrying about feeding and supporting their families, we can’t afford to let good, healthy food produced by Canadians go to landfills.”

Food Insecurity Rates Increase as a Result of COVID-19 Pandemic

As a result of the pandemic, demand for food from food banks has increased across Canada, as many people have lost their jobs or are working reduced hours without enough income to make ends meet.

According to Statistics Canada, one in seven Canadians are experiencing food insecurity, which can be defined as lack of (or insecure access to) food due to financial constraints.

Lori Nikkel, CEO of Second Harvest (@Lorinikkel, @SecondHarvestCA), says that for many, this is a new experience, with many Canadians “wondering for the first time where their next meal might come from.” 

She adds that, “The pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges across the entire food supply chain as well as for Canadians struggling with food access. Funding from the Surplus Food Rescue Program will have positive environmental, economic and social impact by diverting healthy surplus food to communities, instead of becoming landfill waste.”

Second Harvest is a registered charity with the purpose of rescuing and delivering surplus food to people experiencing hunger across Canada. It’s one of eight organizations awarded funding under the Surplus Food Rescue Program.

Food Insecurity is an Income Issue

While food banks play an important role in providing emergency assistance to people experiencing hunger, many researchers emphasize that food insecurity cannot be solved by charitable food assistance alone.

Data from PROOF, an interdisciplinary research program investigating household food insecurity in Canada, indicates that only a small fraction of food insecure people use food banks. In fact, even among those experiencing severe food insecurity, only 20 per cent access food from a food bank. In addition, food banks are limited in the amount of food that they can provide to each person. 

Since food insecurity is ultimately the result of inadequate income, PROOF suggests that, “Extending a guaranteed income to all Canadians through a policy like basic income could be an effective way to reduce food insecurity across the country.” 

How Can You Help

Despite these important limitations, food banks remain an emergency lifeline for many families that currently depend on them. For those looking to contribute this Thanksgiving, here are some ways you can help:

  1. If you have the means, considering donating money instead of food to your local food bank. Money is often a more efficient way to donate, as food bank purchasers can buy larger amounts of food at well below retail prices. Monetary donations also save time for food banks, since unlike food donations, money doesn’t need to be sorted or stored.
  2. Food donations are also welcome. Make sure to check the expiry dates on food you donate, and focus on giving unopened, nutritious, non-perishable food items, like canned vegetables, rice or peanut butter. Some food banks also post “wish lists” on their websites of the foods they need most. 
  3. If it is safe to do so, you can also consider volunteering your time at a food bank. As always, be sure to abide by the COVID-19 guidelines in place in your community to protect yourself and others.
  4. To learn more about the root causes of food insecurity and long-term strategies to address it, visit Food Secure Canada or PROOF.

If you or someone you know is experiencing hunger during this time, visit Food Banks Canada to find a food bank near you.


  1. https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/government-of-canada-investment-brings-nutritious-surplus-food-to-vulnerable-canadians-852868429.html
  2. https://secondharvest.ca/press-release/second-harvest-and-canadian-produce-marketing-association-approved-for-22-million-to-purchase-and-redistribute-surplus-food-through-canadian-community-groups/
  3. https://proof.utoronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/11PROOF_FACTSHEET_Foodbanks-112019.pdf
  4. https://proof.utoronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/public-policy-factsheet.pdf
  5. https://nationalpost.com/opinion/buying-canned-goods-to-donate-to-food-banks-is-inefficient-and-misguided-donate-money-instead
  6. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/vancouver-food-bank-warns-against-unwanted-donations-1.3515798


Farmwork to Feed Canada (F2FC) is a national volunteer not-for-profit initiative by Canadian communication professionals, students, and recent graduates in communications. F2FC collaborates with farmers, and agri-businesses amid COVID-19 pandemic-related challenges to Canada’s food supply and food security, to engage Canadians, pro bono, with compelling stories about their food system and build support for Canada’s farmers, food producers, and their essential skilled workers.

Sylvia Black

Sylvia Black

Sylvia Black is a registered dietitian with a graduate degree in Nutrition Communication from Ryerson University. Sylvia is passionate about the importance of food for individual, community and societal wellbeing.  

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