Cambridge Food Bank alone distributed over 21,000 emergency food hampers last year and saw interest in its Mobile Market grow from 60 shoppers a week to almost 600 a week
Representatives from Feed Ontario made a stop at The Food Bank of Waterloo Region on Wednesday to share findings from the hunger-relief organization’s annual Hunger Report.
The report highlights how the need for emergency food has increased since the beginning of the pandemic across Ontario and similarly so, throughout the region.
According to the 2022 Hunger Report, which gathers data from across Ontario between April 1, 2021, and March 31, 2022, more than 587,000 unique individuals were in need of emergency food this year. One-in-three visitors accessed a food bank for the first time.
Ontario’s food banks are experiencing a 64 per cent increase in first-time users since 2019.
“Food banks are becoming increasingly relied on to fill the gaps,” said Andrea Waters, manager of Marketing and Communications at Feed Ontario.
“They started as a temporary measure, a temporary solution to hunger and despite three decades of tireless work, food insecurity is still a pervasive issue today.”
Waters says it’s more difficult to escape poverty than it used to be because people are finding it more difficult than ever to improve their financial circumstances.
“No one should have to choose between paying their rent or buying food, turning on the heat, or buying a coat for their child. People living in poverty are living with impossible choices.”
The Food Bank of Waterloo Region has seen a similar increase in the number of people accessing programs and services through the Community Food Assistance Network, which is made up of 120+ community programs and agency partners that distribute food through shelter and residential services, emergency hampers , community meal programs, and nutritional outreach services.
The Food Bank acquires and distributes more than five million pounds of fresh, frozen, and non-perishable food throughout the Waterloo region.
Between April 2021 and March 2022, The Food Bank had 38,228 unique individuals access programs and services through the Network, a 14 per cent increase over the previous year. Since 2019, the number of new households accessing food assistance has risen by 33.5 per cent.
Kim Wilhelm, interim CEO of The Food Bank of Waterloo Region says the growing demand on food banks is not the result of the pandemic or recent inflations.
“Although these issues do play a role, food banks and food assistance programs have become increasingly relied on to subsidize government policy change, budget cuts, and inadequate social support programs,” Wilhelm said.
“Like Feed Ontario, the Food Bank of Waterloo Region is advocating for true solutions to hunger and poverty. This includes providing all workers with the same employment protection as in other sectors, increasing social assistance rates, and making housing affordable so people don’t have to choose between paying rent or paying for food.”
Representatives from Feed Ontario and The Food Bank of Waterloo Region were joined by the Cambridge Food Bank and others from the Community Food Assistance Network’s agency partners for the Feed Ontario’s Roadshow stop in Waterloo Region.
The Food Bank of Waterloo Region and the Cambridge Food Bank are at the center of the Community Food Assistance Network, which works together to provide access to food and other vital supports and services to local people in need.
As food banks across the province continue to see record use in emergency food assistance, Dianne McLeod, executive director at the Cambridge Food Bank said she is thankful to be part of a wonderful partnership.
“We are a small but mighty food bank that serves Cambridge and North Dumfries. Last year, the Cambridge Food Bank distributed over 21,000 emergency food hampers,” McLeod said.
“For us, a busy year prior to COVID-19, was at about 12,000 emergency hampers a year. So, we’ve seen a significant increase,” McLeod said.
She highlighted the importance of the Cambridge Food Banks’s Community Pantry Program as well as The Mobile Food Market, two services that continue to increase in usage.
“People from all walks of life come to the Mobile Market,” McLeod said.
“We started one year ago in July with 60 shoppers a week, and this past summer we had nearly 600 shoppers a week and with a huge increase in seniors who are on a fixed income.”
Cambridge city councillor, Scott Hamilton, says Cambridge is a part of Waterloo Region, and the trends affecting the region, also affect Cambridge.
“There’s nothing more important for families, especially this time of year, than putting food on the table,” Hamilton said.
“I think it’s important to know the trends, to know how to address the issues, and to have a concrete and positive vision of how to get food onto everyone’s plate, moving forward.”
In the Waterloo Region, one in 14 homes are regularly accessing emergency programs, a rise from one in 20, the previous year.
“It’s no secret this has been a very difficult time for many people in our community,” Wilhelm said.
“We’re joining in Feed Ontario’s call for improved access to social services and programs to help relieve the pressure of living costs for our region’s most vulnerable residents. We need to act now to help people put food on the table.”
To learn more about Feed Ontario, visit feedontario.ca.