For food bank worker Rachel O'Reilly, the idea of Hamiltonians — especially children — going to bed hungry at night is disturbing.
“Hunger is the number one issue facing the community,” said O'Reilly, director of resource and development at Hamilton Food Share. “That's the sad reality.”
That's why buses with volunteer firefighters are visiting eight local schools to collect donations on Friday as part of the annual Ancaster Food Drive.
Hamilton Food Share is one of the recipients of the mass donations that will come from the food drive this weekend. O'Reilly said the Ancaster drive generates a “substantial” donation to their food bank, as well as to the seven other organizations that will receive packages after roughly 300 volunteers sort donations on Saturday.
“It's a marvel to see,” she said. “They engage the kids ... they engage the whole community.”
Jim LoPresti helped found the Ancaster Food Drive, and 21 years later he says he doesn't have good news to report about the city's need for the program.
“I wish I could tell you the need has gone down, but it has not,” said LoPresti, now a co-chair of the food drive. “The need continues to go up."
O'Reilly's disturbing feelings are validated by the numbers.
She knows Hamilton was hit hard by the 2009 recession; a record number of people —19,602 to be exact — visited the food that year.
“It was a 26 per cent increase in food bank users,” she said. “It's the largest increase that Hamilton Food Share has had in its history.”
That number hasn't decreased much. In March 2012, Hamilton Food Share's research showed 18,448 Hamiltonians used its food banks on a monthly basis.
Forty-two per cent of that number were children under the age of 18, O'Reilly said.
From the food bank perspective, the recession is not over, O'Reilly said.
“Companies have been doing well, but they don't talk about how they got there,” she said. “There were jobs losses that were not replaced.”
That ongoing demand is what makes events like the Ancaster Food Drive so important.
LoPresti said in 2012, the food drive collected a record 81,000 pounds of food for the community. He's hoping for a new record in 2013.
With all the community support, LoPresti is confident they'll reach it.
“Hundreds of people are all doing something for people they don't know,” he said. “Maybe someday, we'll need the help.”