FoodShare is Born

Jack Layton and FoodShare team giving presentation in 1985

1985 to 1989 - FoodShare is Born


  • By 1985, 1 in 6 people in Toronto were living in poverty and the crisis was growing. Aid programs were overwhelmed however neither the Municipal or Provincial government was collecting data on this crisis. In 1986, the Toronto Star released a three part series called “Hunger in Metro Toronto”. The series was critical of Food banks as band-aid measures noting that they removed pressure from government to address root causes of hunger.
  • In 1987, the first Food System Seminar Series to explore food security issues brought together leading thinkers from Toronto postsecondary institutions including York University, the University of Toronto, and Ryerson Polytechnical Institute. Tim Lang, founder of the London Food Commission in the United Kingdom visited Toronto to contribute to discussions and actions to address food security issues. A group called Food Chain was formed by academics and civil society leaders, helping lay the groundwork for the Toronto Food Policy Council.
  • In 1988 Toronto City Councillor Jack Layton and his executive assistant Dan Leckie proposed the creation of a municipal body to advise on food issues as a comprehensive approach to the hunger and poverty crisis calling for strengthened social, community, and economic policy as well as private sector involvement.
  • In March of 1988 deputations delivered to the Toronto Board of Heath described that, “Toronto needs a Local Food Policy Council”. This Council would be responsible for eliminating the need for food giveaways by pushing for better wages, better social programs and more affordable housing. The Board also brought a number of other recommendations to City Council – including making a public statement about the City’s hunger emergency, declaring an End Hunger Week, setting up nutrition programs for the City and sending a distress signal to the Federal government for more help. The Toronto Board of Health unanimously agreed that a Food Council needed to be established as an advisory board within City Council.
  • Cathy Campbell from the department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto published “Community based Nutrition Monitoring”, a research paper that highlighted the value of participatory research for community education and organizing around limited food resources for low income families (1989).


  • In 1985, Toronto Mayor Art Eggleton proposed a $20,000 pilot program aimed at combating “the distressing reality” of hunger in the City of Toronto called FoodShare Toronto, which would have volunteer workers taking calls from people who wanted to donate surplus food and from those in need of aid.
  • With initial funding of $20,000 from the City of Toronto, and donations and grants from other sources, FoodShare’s first task was to coordinate food aid and emergency food drives.
  • Reverand Stuart Coles – FoodShare’s Chairman – explained that a continued reliance on food banks to supplement a failing welfare system may lead to an acceptance of stopgap solutions to hunger without dealing with its root causes. Coles also discussed that increased social assistance benefits, improved employment programs, increased minimum wage rates and a guaranteed annual income were complementary actions needed to tackle the root causes of poverty.
  • In 1986, FoodShare began its advocacy work working towards long-term solutions to hunger and statement of objectives included “lobbying for income distribution, housing, social assistance and minimum wage rates, day care, and work assistance programs”.
  • Donna MacDonald, a community activist, was hired as FoodShare’s first Executive Director, bringing years of experience working on housing, health and income security issues.  Under her leadership from 1985 to 1988, FoodShare generated an understanding of hunger and poverty issues and developed and implemented programs and solutions in partnership with communities using a grassroots community development approach.
  • In 1987 Executive Director Donna MacDonald proposed a funding structure splitting operating costs for FoodShare ($89,000) between Metro Toronto 30% and the City of Toronto 35%. The remainder (35%) would be fundraised by the organization.
  • In 1988, Richard Yampolsky joined FoodShare as its second Executive Director.  Richard recognized the key role of food in antipoverty work, and joined other social agencies and churches in a petition to the Provincial government to overhaul the welfare system.
  • In 1989, FoodShare rejected an idea to shut down the City’s food banks as a way to force politicians to fight poverty. FoodShare, and other social welfare agencies agreed that they would rather risk making food banks a permanent fixture in the City than turn their backs on their clients. Richard Yampolsky cautioned that a decision to close food banks was not a simple one. Other social reforms – including affordable housing, improved social assistance payments and a higher minimum wage – were also needed.   


  • FoodShare’s initial funding outlined two key services: 1) Establish the Hunger Hotline (years later renamed FoodLink), a phone service to inform people about the emergency food programs that would best meet their needs, and 2) Research the causes of increased hunger and food bank use to provide Toronto City Council with recommendations for action.
  • In 1986, FoodShare began to collect information on Toronto’s hungry. It was estimated that there were as many as 15,000 hungry people in the City participating in emergency food programs, but this number was only an estimate, and FoodShare Executive Director, Donna MacDonald stated “everyone is always asking for the number of hungry people there are, but no one knows for sure. We can’t get food to people if we don’t know how many there are”. The results of the data were submitted to the Provincial government’s Social Service Review Committee. Through this effort, increased attention was also drawn to the problem of hungry children in Toronto and it was estimated that there were thousands of children in Toronto showing up to school without having eaten breakfast and with no nourishment to fuel their day.
  • Under the leadership of Donna MacDonald, FoodShare developed a plan to scale up the work she had seen with the Regent Park Sole Support Mothers Group to start in other communities. The idea was called the Food Action Project, and in 1986 FoodShare was successful in getting first a Federal and then a Provincial grant to do this work. In 1989, the Food Action Project was launched, with support from federal funding to help residents organize community gardens, dinners, and bulk buying clubs, organize trips to farmers markets and ‘U-Pick’ farms, community run restaurants, and create a shopping directory of budget stores.
  • FoodShare was very involved with finding solutions for surplus food that farmers and food distributors. In May 1986 potatoes that were being destroyed to protect pricing were offered to FoodShare to distribute in Toronto. Funds were raised to for refrigerated transportation and bags for the potatoes, and hundreds of volunteers were mobilized in this effort.
  • In 1989, Toronto Public Health, the Stop 103 (now the Stop Community Food Centre) and FoodShare partnered to create Toronto’s first Healthy Beginnings program to provide education for young mothers on peri-natal and infant nutrition. This work laid the basis years later for FoodShare’s Baby and Toddler Nutrition Program. Which was developed in partnership with Toronto Public Health.


Annual Revenues

  • 1985: $20,000
  • 1986: $139,465
  • 1987: $205,089
  • 1988: $275,510
  • 1989: $251,189

Number of Staff

In 1985 there was 1 employee at FoodShare, expanding to 5 full time staff by 1989.


FoodShare leased a below-market-rent office space at 12 Shuter Street for $1/a year.


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