Food insecurity is worsening for some local residents due to the rising cost of living, driven by food prices and housing, plus employment instability caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Earlier this month, Statistics Canada reported that grocery prices increased by 5.7 per cent, the biggest annual gain since 2011, and in December CBC reported food price inflation is on track to rise further with a likely increase of between five and seven per cent in 2022.
The rising cost of food has left many Ottawa residents, who already rely on food banks for access to certain items, using the service even more now.
At the Hintonburg Community Centre last week, a young woman says she recently moved to the area, which lacks a large grocery store, and only features "smaller higher-end stores."
I can't afford to go to the grocery store to buy fruit. — Elizabeth Mitchell
"I almost found it like a food desert to be honest when I came here and I found that really, really challenging," said the woman, who CBC is not identifying because she had safety concerns.
"So either you need to use a community resource, or bus out somewhere. It takes a lot of time."
She also said the problem seems to be getting worse.
"People that didn't even talk about high food costs before are now struggling with it, too, so I think it's just generally an issue that needs more space," she said.
"Prices need to be affordable in order to meet the income range of the general population."
'Fruits have gone up'
The cost of fresh produce was also a cause for concern among people picking up their groceries at the community centre as part of a program run by the Parkdale Food Centre.
"The fruits have gone up, definitely in price … the peppers have gone up in price, as well," said Dean Taylor.
"I need vegetables in my diet because I have diabetes. So two of the things that I need the most are vegetables and fruit."
Local advocates say income supports need to grow to help people avoid constant reliance on food banks. Inflation is also a key problem and the Bank of Canada, which did not raise interest rates Wednesday, says it does plan to raise rates in 2022 to help deal with inflation.
For Ottawa resident Elizabeth Mitchell, who lives alone, food banks will continue to be the only way she can find certain foods like meat and produce.
"I can't afford to go to the grocery store to buy fruit," she said.