WALKERTON – This is Hunger Action Month – a perfect time to consider helping out your local food bank by making a donation of cash, non-perishable food items, grocery store gift cards or non-food items we all use and need.
We might also consider why, after 40 years (31 in Walkerton) something intended to be a temporary measure remains a fact of life for too many of our friends and neighbours.
Maryanne Buehlow of the Walkerton and District Food Bank said, “When it started, we thought it would go for maybe five years.” Now, 31 years later, it’s still operating, and needed more than ever.
Buehlow explained that the COVID-19 pandemic had an unexpected impact on food banks – fewer people used them, while industries and businesses made large donations of food items.
“Donations were coming from all directions,” she said.
She credits the reduced need to the extra government money people had coming in.
Now that COVID relief money is coming to an end. Some businesses have closed their doors and people may no longer be in a position to make donations.
“Now donations are down, numbers are going up and our shelves … are not packed,” Buehlow said.
She noted that Feed Ontario – the province’s largest collective of hunger-relief organizations – has warned that during the last recession, the same thing happened.
“Numbers went down, but six to nine months later, be prepared,” she said.
The focus of this year’s Hunger Action Month is the housing crisis – why housing is so unaffordable, how it affects food bank use, and how we can work to create solutions.
Postcards will soon be available at the food bank for people to fill out to demand more social and supportive housing units.
Feed Ontario noted that according to a September 2020 survey, half of food bank clients across the province were worried about eviction or defaulting on their mortgage in the next two to six months. Feed Ontario further stated that 11 per cent of Ontario apartment units are in rent arrears, the highest rate in Canada.
It should go without saying, that as people have to pay more of their income for housing, food bank use goes up. A statement by Feed Ontario explained the situation: “If this housing crisis is not addressed, food banks expect a huge increase in demand for their services, as well as increased risk of evictions and homelessness.”
“Reducing poverty is essential,” said Buehlow. “Food banks are not a solution. We need to get government moving on this.”
What food banks are is an emergency response, a way to put food on the table for people who need it.
Ontario’s food banks were accessed by more than 537,575 people who visited more than 3.2 million times in 2020. Buehlow explained this information from Feed Ontario includes only food banks that are members – not all food banks are. The ones in Walkerton and Hanover are, while Durham and Paisley are not.
Membership offers a way to get a lot of food for a relatively small investment. The Walkerton and District Food Bank also purchases items from local grocery stores and receives donations from organizations such as Chicken Farmers of Ontario.
Food bank clients come from all age groups – children, senior citizens, low-income workers and students. Buehlow said some people use the food bank only once or twice, while others use it on a regular basis.
The most visits ever at the local food bank came in 2020, when there were 50 in one week. It’s usually in the high 20s and 30s, said Buehlow.
Clients at the food bank are treated with respect. No one hands them a box of food and sends them on their way. They’re asked to fill out a list of food options that takes into consideration special needs, food allergies and preferences.
Buehlow said people are often surprised at how much choice there is.
For example, with meats, clients may make one selection of luncheon meat (pastrami, salami); two selections of a whole or half chicken, chicken thighs, turkey thighs or ground turkey; and two other selections including hot dogs, pork loin or shoulder, bacon, frozen dinners, salmon, veggie burgers, ribs, etc., with soup bones, pork tails and pork hocks extra.
The food bank has several freezers, and shelves lined with non-perishable food and other items.
Right now, those shelves could use some topping-up.
Food items needed right now are snack packs for kids’ lunches (with meat and/or cheese, crackers and fruit), macaroni and cheese dinners, pasta sauce, canned fruit (not individual servings – full sized tins), juice (not drinking boxes) and instant coffee including decaf. Food supplements such as Boost and Ensure are needed, too.
Non-food items needed include razors, shampoo, adult diapers, laundry detergent, facial tissues and toothbrushes. With winter coming, Buehlow said hats, mittens, scarves and socks would be welcome.
The Walkerton and District Food Bank is located on May Street, near the Durham Street intersection. Call 519-881-0168 (after hours – 519-901-4557 or 519-881-1721), or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Because of COVID, appointments are preferred.
Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times