It's a busy time of year at Moisson Montreal, the largest food bank in Canada.
Walking through the warehouse was like walking through a busy city. There were designated walking paths, other paths where forklifts zoomed around carrying boxes of food and the sounds of beeping, chatter and machinery filled the space.
We saw volunteer stations, each with a different task and team leader. One group was labelling cans, another sorting through donations and another was packing dry soup ingredients for Christmas baskets, the smell of spices filling the air as we walked by.
What struck me as we walked through the warehouse of towering boxes and bustling people, was the efficiency.
Moisson Montreal distributes about $85 million worth of food annually to 241 community organizations that provide food to people in need. The organization works with grocery stores, collecting food near the end of its life and quickly repackaging this to distribute to community organizations.
To do this, Moisson Montreal needs about 85 volunteers every day and in December, it's usually more like 100 volunteers daily.
“Between the field and the plate, about 40 per cent of food is wasted and this is where Moisson Montreal acts,” says Richard Daneau, executive director.
With such a reliance on outside help, Daneau says being able to communicate efficiently with volunteers is critical to Moisson's operations.
Using digital tech to scale up
In 2019, Moisson Montreal will launch an online volunteer platform that registers and records information about volunteers and helps improve volunteer communications. The platform is funded by CIRA's Community Investment Program, an annual granting program that invests in building a better online Canada by supporting organizations doing good for and through the internet.
Daneau says the online platform will improve the volunteer experience and contribute to reducing food waste because it will help staff have better visibility on which volunteers will be coming in so they can then assign the workload more effectively.
Back in 2015, Moisson Montreal also received funding from CIRA's Community Investment Program for an innovative online training program that teaches supermarket employees and managers how they can reduce food waste.
Through this virtual training program, users learn more about food conservation and how they can safely and efficiently redirect unused food to food banks.
Leaving with food for thought
Walking through Moisson Montreal helped me visualize the complex system behind how food gets to people in need, and how it's so much more than holiday food drives.
That loaf of bread you catch yourself from buying at the grocery store because its due date is tomorrow or that container of yogurt that's expiring soon – there's a chance it will soon be on its way to an efficient warehouse like Moisson Montreal, to help feed people in our communities who are hungry.
Moisson Montreal is inspiring in its use of digital technology like the volunteer app to expand their impact and ultimately feed more people. They are one of many examples of how technology is changing the food industry in Canada.
Hungry to learn more? Read CIRA's latest report: How the internet helps feed hungry people.