Food Programs are much more than just food

Will Foran

Many of us are familiar with the concept of a food collection drive. The community comes together to help those struggling to afford food by gathering essential and non-perishable items like canned soup or boxed pasta. It’s a practice we’ve been doing for decades that we wish wasn’t necessary, to try and ensure everyone has food on their table and that food programs are well stocked.

When you walk by the large bin of donations at your local supermarket or mall, rarely does the thought cross your mind; “Where does it all go?”

Donated food doesn’t end up on a table without the unassuming labour of a local non-profit agency, staff and volunteers. Local heroes who know the people they serve personally and love their community passionately. Agencies will tell you that they quickly form relationships with program participants, gleaning insight into their lives and learning how best they can support them in whatever it is they need. Bravely, local non-profit staff and volunteers join them during their life’s challenges and share in the joy and excitement of their successes.

Local food programs have been under significant stress since 2020, with the pandemic and inflation taking a toll on everyone. If you retained stable employment, your buying power has still been depleted at the grocery stores, making food programs more vital than ever. Given the increase in demand, local agencies have had to get creative, securing produce through local community gardens and making connections in their area to access free or affordable food for people in need.

Take for example, Community Care in Thorold. Our staff and volunteers  took a tour of their building to get a glimpse into what a day at the agency is like. Maxine was a gracious host who took the time to explain their operations in detail while also responding to local clients in the process. There was never a dull moment, with plenty of food going out the door and even an individual arriving from Ukraine. She explained that thanks to local farmers, community groups and generous grocery stores, emergency food programs have been able to survive, but the reality is that the need always outweighs food availability.

“I wasn’t sure what to expect upon visiting Community Care in Thorold.  It was difficult to see so many clients lining up to receive a grocery order, however I was comforted by the fact that staff at the centre are on a first name basis with most of the clients.  It was evident that the staff really care about every individual and family that visit.  They remember client preferences and are completely non-judgmental about fulfilling any special requests that they may have.” – Alyson, United Way Niagara  

For many agencies, the food program is just one aspect of their efforts to help Niagara do better. Healthy food is crucial to improving one’s well-being, but the need for stable mental and physical health cannot be understated. Through local outreach programs for youth and adults, United Way funded programs work to change poverty into possibility.

When you donate to a local food drive, and I encourage you to do so, also think of all the work local agencies, staff and volunteers do to get the products where they are needed and their efforts to support those in need.

United Way Niagara is proud to fund local programs providing invaluable support and services throughout Niagara, and we hope you will join us in continuing to support their efforts.

You can help support programs like this one, make a gift today.

Will Foran is the Marketing and Communications Officer for United Way Niagara

United Way’s Food Security Investments include:

After School Matters

  • Nutrition Program

Battlefield Gospel Church

  • Warming Centre for the Homeless*

Big Brothers Big Sisters Niagara Falls and South Niagara

  • Game ON! Eat Smart, Play Smart, Live Smart
  • Go Girls! Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds

Big Brothers Big Sisters of North & West Niagara

  • Game ON! Eat Smart, Play Smart, Live Smart
  • Go Girls! Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds

Boys and Girls Club of Niagara

  • Kid Zone
  • Nightlight Youth Services

Bridges Community Health Centre

  • Everyone Matters Special Support Fund

Community Care St. Catharines and Thorold

  • Food Program
  • Niagara Nutrition Partners
  • Thorold Food Program

Community Care West Niagara

  • Emergency Assistance Program
  • Food Program
  • Food Recovery Program

Faith Welland Outreach

  • Low Income Senior’s Program*

Falls View BIC. Shepherds Heart

  • Shepherds Heart Pantry

GROW Community Food Literacy Centre

  • Low-Cost Market*

Holy Trinity Anglican Church Welland

  • Welland Breakfast Program*

Links for Greener Learning

  • Community Greenhouses*
  • Good Food Box
  • Links for Greener Families

Meals on Wheels Niagara Falls Inc.

Meals on Wheels Port Colborne Inc.

Niagara Community Garden Network

Pop-up Food Markets

Port Cares

  • Community Navigator
  • Reach Out Food Centre

Project SHARE

  • Garden Expansion*

Society of St. Vincent de Paul – Ozanam Centre

  • Soup Kitchen Support*

Southridge Shelter

  • Collective Kitchen*
  • Southridge Kitchen*

Start Me Up Niagara

  • Food Plus
  • SMUN Centre

Strive Niagara

  • Young Moms Outreach Program


  • Drop-In Teen Program
  • FORT After School Program

The Hope Centre

  • Food Program

Westview Centre4Women

  • Food & Financial Security

Women’s Place of South Niagara

  • Safer Stronger Communities


  • Emergency Family Shelter

*program received Special Project Funding