It began with the spark of an idea while walking the family dog, and Dina Rehanek’s initiative, Feed the Need, is still at it, recently providing another 1,728 meals to those in need. Since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Rehanek, who works in the Health and Safety Department of the Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB), and her family have been collecting donations in support of the Cambridge Self-Help Food Bank.

Feed the Need’s latest effort was a food drive-thru at Zehrs on Conestoga Boulevard in Cambridge on Saturday, October 3. Taking in 296lbs of food and $450 in donations, Rehanek was pleased with the response from the community.

“Anything above one item is great,” said Rehanek, who emphasized the strain local food banks are feeling, especially at this time of year.

Joined by her husband and two children, who returned from university to help assist with the food drive, and a handful of volunteers, their latest event invited people to donate without even getting out of their car. A portion of the parking lot was cordoned off, with traffic cones marking out lanes to control the flow of traffic.

In addition to collecting food and financial donations, Rehanek invited people to bring out coats, winter jackets and blankets to be donated alongside the usual non-perishables.

Looking back, Rehanek could never have predicted that Feed the Need would still be at it, helping to feed the community, more than six months after the effort first started. Even in the face of increasingly chillier weather, she is driven to keep the food drives going.

“Realizing there’s a need,” said Rehanek, that’s what keeps her motivated to continue supporting local food banks.

Feed the Need began with an idea Rehanek had when she saw her neighbours’ recycling bins while out walking her dog. These readily available containers made for a perfect contactless food drive platform. The food drive-thru is an evolution of this initial model, offering a way to maximize potential donations at a central location, while continuing to maintain a safe distance.

At a time when so much feels like it is changing, support from the community is one thing that has remained constant, said Rehanek. On this day, some members of the community even took to picking items out of their own grocery carts to donate – items they had intended to take home themselves.

“They went in, obviously, to buy the coffee and they came out and gave it to us,” she said, adding that in some cases, they find notes of thanks amongst the donations, offering appreciation for the work Feed the Need does. “It really makes you feel good to be part of it.”

Emma Barrina was one of the volunteers that joined the Rehanek family to support the Feed the Need food drive-thru. She was inspired to help, as she knows that food banks have been experiencing an increased need during the COVID-19 pandemic. This has been complicated by the fact that many potential donors are unsure if new restrictions would limit donations.

“Coronavirus has been very challenging for food banks,” said Barrina. “People aren’t sure whether they should be donating or not.”

Barrina knows how important food banks are as resources for the community. She invites everyone to do whatever they can to support them during an already challenging time of year – whether it be the donation of non-perishable food or a friendly wave.

“Anything you can do to help makes a difference,” she said. “It’s a hard time for everybody, so just be mindful and be kind to everyone.”

Learn more about Feed the Need