Hunger in the Hills
By Nicolas Parent and Trevor Greenway
It may not be shocking that food security is on the rise in the Hills, but what may be surprising is the number of families and young people – with one or two jobs – who need help putting food on the table.
According to area food banks, more and more families are finding it difficult to keep their cupboards full and the new faces staffers are seeing signals a shift in demographics around food insecurity.
“We’re seeing more people who are employed, nearly 40 per cent of our visitors,” explained Le Grenier des Collines director general Marie-Pier Chaput of the Hills-based food bank. “People are on the edge. Their car can break down and need repairs, and suddenly they are in a situation of food insecurity.”
When Chaput joined Le Grenier des Collines, she said there were between 300 and 400 beneficiaries annually. Pointing to the pandemic starting in March 2020 as a tipping point, Chaput noted that in just a few months Le Grenier des Collines received an additional 600 users. “Since then, we have continued to see steady growth of our user base, around 30 per cent per year.”
It’s a similar profile at Banque Alimentaire - Services Entraide (BASE) in Hull, where director general Frédérick Gates pointed to a spike in inflation during the summer months. Reaching as high as 8.1 per cent, he explained that some families exhausted their savings during this period, eventually leading them to draw on the food bank.
“Since September 2022, we’ve seen a big difference in the types of persons who are coming in to ask for help,” said Gates. “With costs associated to school, there were lots of people who never called on our services that were now coming to us, particularly young families and single-parent families with incomes.”
Wakefield Food Pantry and Community Fridge volunteer Jeannie Loughrey told the Low Down that, while it’s difficult to determine whether or not there are more users, she said that she has noticed new faces coming in for help.
“There are people who are coming…with a sense of embarrassment because this is obviously a new experience,” she said. “And we don’t ask people particular things, but there is a just sense of being chagrined on the part of some.”
Loughrey added that she has also noticed that area schools have been “informally” using the service more and more to boost their breakfast and lunch programs, signaling that more families are struggling to feed their kids in the Hills.
Loughrey praised local businesses and farmers who donate weekly to the community fridge that is stationed outside the Church of the Good Shepherd at 693 Ch. Riverside in Wakefield. While the fridge was empty during the Low Down’s June 2 visit, Loughrey said the organization doesn’t have a difficult time keeping it stocked.
“We are well supported by a number of local businesses, individuals in terms of donations, food at cost, things like this,” she said. “A lot of the vendors at the market put in fresh food on Saturdays that they don’t sell, which is a really great thing.”
Loughrey added that the pantry is seeing a lot of new Canadians and single moms coming in for help lately.
Stats show Canadians at greater risk
According to Statistics Canada, food insecurity went up 1.6 per cent between 2018 and 2021, affecting 18.4 per cent of Canada’s total population.
Across age groups, persons under 18 years of age and those 65 years and over experienced the highest growth of food insecurity — 2.1 and 2.2 per cent respectively. Visible minorities have been particularly hard hit, with increases of food insecurity amounting to 2.3 per cent within the Indigenous population and four per cent for recent immigrants across this same period.
Beyond Statistic Canada’s reporting period, 2022 and 2023 has seen skyrocketing inflation that has almost certainly put Canadians at greater risk of food insecurity. In a newly released survey by the Salvation Army, 52 per cent of Canadians have faced food security challenges in the last year, and 59 per cent of those who accessed Salvation Army food banks in 2021 and 2022 were first-time users.
The Bank of Canada has repeatedly hiked interest rates as a means to combat inflation, and while these have affected the disposable income of Canadian homeowners, data for Moisson Outaouais – the primary distributor of food aid in the region – shows that most individuals and families drawing on their services are not homeowners.
According to Food Banks Quebec’s 2022 Hunger Count report, 56 per cent of users were renters and 24.3 per cent lived in social housing.
Of the 187 households Le Grenier des Collines served recently, 60 are property owners, or about 32 per cent, explained Chaput. She also noted the mental toll food insecurity has taken on a population that previously didn’t need this kind of help.
“For individuals who have been on social security for a long time, even generations, it’s part of how they survive. It’s harder on people who now need to come to us, despite having two salaries coming in,” explained Chaput.
Along with other organizations, the Canadian Public Health Association has explicitly identified food insecurity as a factor that has negative impacts on mental well-being. A recent study by researchers at the University of Toronto and McGill University, which surveyed over 50,000 youth between the ages of 12-24, found that food insecurity was associated with a higher likelihood of every mental health problem examined, including suicidal thoughts, mood and anxiety disorders.
Politically, there has been little appetite to address food insecurity. While the Liberal government’s 2023 budget includes a one-time grocery rebate of a maximum of $467, the long-term solution to food insecurity for an increasingly large portion of Canadians is unlikely.
Wakefield Food Pantry and Community Fridge
If you need help with food, the Wakefield Food Pantry and Community Fridge can assist. Users can book times by calling or texting the word “Food” to 613-795-8221 or 819-664-5058. Residents are also free to donate or take food from the community fridge as they please, however there are some guidelines as to what can be donated.
What can go in the fridge:
Fresh fruits and vegetables
Commercially prepared and packaged meals, before their “best date”
Commercially packaged meat, before its “best date”
What can’t go into the refrigerator:
Home-made jams jellies
Homemade meals and baking
Le Grenier des Collines
The main food bank service for residents in the MRC des Collines, which includes La Pêche Chelsea and Cantley. The food bank is located at 34 Chem. de l’Église in Val-des-Monts. Open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday. (819) 457-1010.
Au goût du jour
Residents in the MRC Vallée-de-la-Gatineau region up the line can access Au goût du jour at 42 Rue Principale in Gracefield. (819) 463-1469.