By Kate Proctor
Just before Christmas, I was working with some people who volunteer locally. We got chatting about our local food bank, North Huron Community Food Share. I have been aware of the vital role that the local food bank plays – but the increase in need in our local community was still shocking.
It is no secret that everything is more expensive, interest rates are up and the cost of basic living is higher. But just how people in our community are affected really hits you between the eyes when you look at the increase in the number of people who cannot afford to buy enough food to feed themselves and their families.
2022 represented a milestone year for Feed Ontario, an organization that was formed in 1992 when 12 food banks got together with a goal of reducing poverty to the point where food banks were not needed in Ontario.
“The purpose of the organization was twofold: to support local food banks in providing essential services to their communities and to advocate for strong public policies that eliminate food insecurity and poverty in the province,” states Feed Ontario’s Hunger Report published in 2020.
If you talk to anyone who works at combating food insecurity, they will tell you, food banks are not a solution. Food banks have been compared to paramedics. They provide immediate assistance in an emergency situation – but they do not solve the problem of long-term food insecurity. Food insecurity happens when income is not adequate to cover basic expenses such as food, housing, and clothing.
The Hunger Report found over the past 30 years since their inception, the number has gone from 12 to 1200 “hunger-relief organizations”, supporting over half a million people across the province. This past year has seen food bank use expand at a faster rate than ever before. The report noted that food banks across Ontario experienced a 42 per cent increase in visits over the past three years.
In Huron and Perth counties, we have also seen increases in food insecurity, in spite of being one of the top food producing regions of the country. Marilyn King, Chair of the North Huron Community Food Share reports a 73 per cent increase in family numbers accessing their services between October 2021 and October 2022. This represents an increase of 20 to 40 families each month. “In 2018-2019 we served 1384 families/3349 individuals. In 2020-2021 there were 2079 family visits/4218 individuals. In 2021-2022 there were 2045 families and 4471 individuals. So far in the 2022-23 year (six months), we have had 1255 families and 2452 individuals.”
These numbers are made up of children, a 27 per cent increase, a 35 per cent increase in single people, and a 56 per cent increase in two-person families. Of the people who access the services, there has been a 47 per cent increase in the number of people who are experiencing homelessness. “80 per cent of our families are renters. There is only subsidized housing for 20 per cent, so most are paying the skyrocketing cost of rent,” says King. But it is interesting to note that the number of people using the food bank who own their own home has also risen 30 per cent from 2021.
The dollars involved with stocking the food bank also tell the story. King reports that total food cost for the 2020-2021 year were $88,277. Current food costs since June 2022 are $95,338, compared to $38,437, for the period from June 2021 to Dec. 2021.
Allyson Fradella, from Statistics Canada, has written a very interesting and detailed report – Behind the numbers – what is causing growth in food prices — that breaks down why some of this is happening. She suggests a perfect storm of events have raised the prices of food at the fastest pace since 1981. Supply chain disruptions due to COVID-19, poor weather in production areas, increasing input prices, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and higher retail operating costs have all played a role. From the farm to the end user, a series of increasing costs have made food more expensive. Pesticides are up 33.9 per cent, energy is up 27.8 per cent, and agricultural wages are up 8.3 per cent.
None of this is easily solved. Which takes us back to our local food bank, where we can at least help our neighbours get through these tough times. I asked King what she wishes people knew about the Food Share. “In some ways funds are better than donations. There is always an element of cleaning out your pantry and donating items too outdated that you will not eat yourself but expect others to. We can’t give out food past the best before date.”
“We are increasingly the grocery store for more and more of the population. Research says that only 25 per cent of the food insecure use food banks, so we have a lot of hungry folks in our area,” she says. In conversations had with the clientele, King found that people relying on Canada Pension Plan (CPP), Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), Ontario Works (OW), Canada Child Benefit (CCB) or being paid minimum wage, do not have enough money to live.
There are multiple ways to pull together as a community. North Huron Community Food Share is just one of many places to donate and volunteer. The Huron County Food Distribution Centre has a mission “to provide food security for all people by supporting local food banks and aid agencies in Huron County and area.”
Their current fundraising drive is looking for 400 people to donate $50 monthly in order to cover the costs of getting food distributed throughout Huron and Perth Counties. ◊