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: