Social service agencies have seen demand for support grow substantially

The first Friday in September each year is National Food Bank Day, and the message behind this day of recognition is more important now perhaps than ever before. United Way Niagara is proud to continue funding programs that strive to ensure no one in our community goes to bed hungry. Still, during the pandemic, social service agencies have seen demand for support grow substantially.

The number of families who struggle to put good food on the table is increasing as a result of layoffs, the economic downturn and isolation caused by the pandemic. We know the most significant factor of being food insecure is the lack of income. Niagara food banks reported an increase in demand of up to 30% since the onset of the pandemic as more people than ever turned to them for the first time. Access to community food programs, food banks and community gardens is essential to bridging the income gap many people in Niagara face.

“Without the incredible contributions we have received from United Way Niagara, we wouldn’t be able to accommodate the number of clients and offer them such substantial food packages through this trying time. We have welcomed various calls from our clients communicating sensitive stories expressing how eternally grateful they are for having been provided food security.” – Community Care West Niagara

Feed Ontario research shows that foodbank use was on the rise even before COVID-19. Between April 1, 2019, and March 31, 2020, over half a million people accessed food banks across Ontario, representing more than a five percent increase over the previous year, with visits to food banks total surpassing the three million mark, more than a seven percent increase over the previous year.

Local data

Locally, 22,682 Niagara residents visited a food bank in 2020. 15,034 were adults and 7,648 were children. In total, they visited a food bank a total of 104,746 times. According to data collected two years before, this number of individuals remains about the same but the frequency in which they visit, has gone up.

Food banks see only a portion of those who are struggling to afford healthy food. Food insecurity has jumped nearly 20% in the last year from just over 50,000 Niagara residents to nearly 60,000 now. These numbers are unacceptable.

With many in our community facing job loss, financial instability and dealing with the mental health impacts of the pandemic, there has been an unprecedented need for assistance throughout the region. During the onset of COVID-19, Ontario’s food banks saw a 26 per cent increase in first-time visitors between March and June 2020.

In a joint statement released in May, Niagara’s major food banks said that the number of people needing assistance in Niagara is unprecedented.

“Even with the income supports provided by government since COVID-19 hit, all of Niagara’s registered food banks are experiencing significant increases in the number of people we are assisting compared to a year ago. The high cost of housing along with low supply of affordable and safe rental units, coupled with the impact of the pandemic on service sector jobs is driving the surge,” explains Christine Clark Lafleur, Executive Director, Port Cares which runs the Reach Out Centre Food Bank in Port Colborne.

Through our COVID-19 Emergency Response efforts, United Way invested both community and government dollars into 24 food programs across Niagara in the 2020. The requests for emergency funding in food was one of the most pressing early on in the pandemic.

“Before my husband’s illness, I never thought I would need assistance for food. When we got the bad news, I instantly fell to my knees. Without an income, life became overwhelming. The bills were due and the cupboards were bare. We were desperate thinking how we would put food on the table. With the generosity of our community and the help we received, I have been relieved of my distress. We were given what we needed during this time of vulnerability. Thanks to you, we have had healthy meals on our table through this horrific time.”   – Nancy, Fort Erie ON

In 2020, United Way funding provided 29,330 individuals access to emergency food and affordable, nutritious food options through our investments in food programs.

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