Food banks see more demand, less support as COVID relief funding dries up

·3 min read
The Caldwell Family Centre says they are at risk of having to close their doors, as the city's COVID-19 relief funding comes to an end. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
The Caldwell Family Centre says they are at risk of having to close their doors, as the city's COVID-19 relief funding comes to an end. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

An organization offering free meals and a food pantry to people in need in Carlington says COVID-19 relief funds from the city need to continue because without them its heading toward bare shelves and closed doors.

The City of Ottawa gave the Caldwell Family Care Centre more than $400,000 over the past two years, but its emergency relief fund for social services is slated to end in September.

Marilyn Matheson, the centre's executive director, says the need for relief is not over and is, in fact, growing for many community organizations in the city.

She says Caldwell Family Care Centre hasn't recovered from the pandemic and has seen prices for food rise along with the size of the population seeking services.

The relief money is crucial for covering operational costs, Matheson said.

"We need funding to buy food as it is needed. We are running out of staples such as milk, eggs," she said.

"If we have to close our doors… a lot of people will go hungry."

Olivia Chandler/CBC
Olivia Chandler/CBC

Inflation driving more people to food banks 

The COVID-19 relief fund has helped the centre and other community organizations cover costs for extra food, cleaning and staffing over the last two years.

But Rachael Wilson, CEO of the Ottawa Food Bank, says organizations are struggling to serve exponentially more people as relief money dwindles.

"The numbers continue to climb because of the inflation that we're seeing," Wilson said.

More employed people are turning to food banks and vulnerable communities are still in need of their services, she said.

Wilson said the amount of social assistance offered by the government has not changed since the pandemic began, which leaves thousands of people in the city to tackle the rising cost of living out of pocket.

"It's almost as bad as it was back in March 2020. People really do not know how they're going to make ends meet, they don't know how they're going to [get through] the next couple of months," she said.

'This could turn into a health crisis'

Wilson said the Ottawa Food Bank is now looking for ways to support community organizations in need. However, she said sustainable funding is paramount.

Inflation is making it harder for food banks to procure the same number of items and more people are turning to them.

"This funding is more crucial than ever to be able to support agencies with their staffing needs and truly provide a healthcare service to the city," Wilson said.

Giacomo Panico/CBC News
Giacomo Panico/CBC News

But Coun. Matthew Luloff told CBC News the relief money came from the provincial government and there's no indication more is coming.

The city said in an emailed statement its "waiting to hear from the province on whether additional funding will be available in 2023."

But according to Wilson, the need for help is now.

"This is about people's lives. This is about people's health. We are talking about a real stress impact on those who are accessing food banks," she said.

"Without question, this could turn into a health crisis."