Ottawa Food Bank giving emergency $500,000 grant amid surging demand

The Ottawa Food Bank is giving an emergency grant to food banks within its network amid what it calls “unprecedented” demand.

The one-time $500,000 grant to community and emergency food banks comes after the busiest month in the Ottawa Food Bank’s history.

Last month, the food bank and its 112 member agencies reported more than 40,500 visits, a new local record and a 24 per cent increase over November 2021.

“I’m not quite sure how much worse it can get before we really recognize that this is a crisis,” Ottawa Food Bank CEO Rachael Wilson told CTV News. “I’ve been receiving phone calls and emails from agencies saying they just don’t have enough food in order to make it to the end of the month.”

She said emergency grant will help local food banks buy more food as the number of people requiring support outpaces their inventories due to the increasing gap between the cost of living and people’s income.

“We really realized that we needed to do something right now,” she said.

Community food banks are also seeing never-before-seen demand. The Lowertown Community Resource Centre has seen its number of visits double since 2017, and increase more than 3,000 since last year.

“The situation is urgent and will only get worse,” executive director Matt Beutel said.

Some agencies are being forced to refer people to other programs or turning them away.

“We are registering around 30 new families every week and are welcoming back families we had not seen in years,” said Jean-Michel Rousseau of Partage Vanier. “We are receiving more requests for additional service during the month than ever before. When our team asks folks where they feel the most strain, the answer is clear: people’s income simply doesn’t match the cost of living.”

The Ottawa Food Bank also released its annual Hunger Report on Tuesday, which says the city is “at a crossroads” and under strain as the cost of living—including food prices—continues to increase.

In 2022, the food bank reported a record 400,000 visits to its member agencies, an all-time high in the organization’s 38-year history.

One in seven households in Ottawa reported experiencing food in security in 2022, compared to one in 15 in 2017.

The food bank has seen an eight per cent decrease in donations. And after the holidays, Wilson expects things to get even more dire.

“We absolutely do not see this slowing down,” she said. “We typically see numbers rise again in January, February and March as we get into the deep winter months. So we’re projecting that we will continue to see a rise in numbers right into the middle of next year, at least.”

– with files from Tyler Fleming, CTV News Ottawa

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