Shortage of donations leads to volunteer shift cuts at Ottawa Food Bank

By Andrea Bennett

Officials with the Ottawa Food Bank are apologizing to volunteers who had their food sorting shifts cancelled.

In a Facebook post, representatives with the organization said they have not received enough food donations that need to be sorted in recent weeks.

In a statement, the Ottawa Food Bank said “we recognize this as a sign that high food prices are understandably impacting donor habits.”

Rachael Wilson, chief executive officer (CEO) of the Ottawa Food Bank, told The Sam Laprade Show on Aug. 22, they’ve been forced to cancel shifts in the last 3 weeks, related to a decline in food donations.

“We know it’s a tough time for people and purchasing extra food for the Ottawa Food Bank is really challenging,” said Wilson. “The reality is we have no food to sort so it means we’re buying more food than we ever have before.”

Wilson described this steady increase in people accessing food banks as ‘unprecedented’ and reaching ‘historic numbers’, with an estimated 403,000 visits at the network of agencies the Ottawa Food Bank supports, in 2022 alone.

This year, the charitable organization expects to see over half a million visits from people across all communities facing food insecurity.

According to Wilson, governments are struggling to provide enough funding to support necessary programs and in Ontario, social assistance rates are not keeping pace with the cost of living.

“Sometimes it does feel like it’s falling on deaf ears, we’re just not seeing investments in the areas we know are so critical,” said Wilson.

Rising housing and utility costs is a major reason behind the recent uptake in those accessing food banks, she added. Ottawa Food Bank is calling on governments to ramp up funding for critical programs to enable residents to thrive in our city.

“You can’t miss your rent or skip a utility bill but its easier to go without food for a couple of days,” Wilson pointed out, “Especially if you’re a parent, you’ll make sure your kids have enough to eat.”

Wilson attributed soaring demand for local food banks to rising costs of food, gas, housing and more. While some purchased new homes due to lower interest rates during the Covid-19 pandemic, many can no longer afford their homes.

“What happens when people have to renegotiate those mortgages and can no longer afford their homes, people will be selling homes and we’re going to see more and more people turning to food banks,” she explained.

People across all neighbourhoods and communities are struggling as the cost of living soars, including those who already own homes and have stable jobs.

“We’re going to see our numbers continue to rise over the next couple of months and years, and unfortunately I don’t think they’re going to come back down again,” said Wilson.

The Ottawa Food Bank is encouraging people to donate healthy food that can be turned into a meal. Items that have low sodium, fat and sugar, and high protein are strongly recommended.

“Pasta sauce, pasta, canned meat and vegetables are critical items that people can donate and we love to encourage families to donate their favorite meals,” she added.

Wilson is reminding people, even though there’s a shortage in food donations, do not hesitate to visit your local food bank. The Ottawa Food Bank is purchasing food to ensure everyone has access to the food they need.

Last month, the organization spent around $900,000 to ensure everyone in the community has access to food, said Wilson.

“We know the numbers continue to rise,” said Wilson. “We really hope governments will make this a non-partisan issue and step up and do what is desperately needed in communities like ours.”

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