Hamilton food banks work overtime to help poor, students

Food banks in Hamilton are extending their hours into the evenings and weekends to accommodate the changing faces of hunger.

Local food banks, hot meal programs to keep doors open on evenings and weekends

In this file photo, volunteer Marc Robert and food bank program manager Lisa Burrows sort food at the Salvation Army food bank on Bay Street. Food banks and hot meal programs across the city are extending their hours into the evenings and weekends to meet the changing demand. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Food banks in Hamilton are extending their hours into the evenings and weekends to accommodate the changing faces of hunger.

The move, part of a one-year pilot project, aims to better serve those who may not be able to access emergency food during the traditional weekday operating hours, such as the working poor and students.

"The face of hunger has changed dramatically over the decades and so have the conditions that contribute to hunger," St. Matthews House, one of the participating agencies, said in a written release. "Having a job doesn't necessarily mean you won’t need a food bank."

Starting in September, food banks and hot meal programs in Hamilton will alternate each week to ensure one emergency food provider is open every Thursday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Currently, emergency food programs in the city run from Monday to Friday between 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Steve Leighfield, executive director of St. Matthew's House, said the extended hours make sense.

“If you look at society in general, people are being required to work differently than they ever have before,” he told CBC Hamilton.

Hope for more donations

The one-year pilot project, which runs from September to August 2015, will also allow agencies to collect data on night and weekend visits and help them understand the needs of those who use the extended hours, Leighfield said.

“So we'll be able to notice trends as we go through this process and that will help us as far as determining we are going to be open more often on the weekend or more often during the evening,” he said.

The initiative is implemented by the Emergency Food Strategic Planning Committee (EFSPC), a collaboration formed by local food banks and hot meal programs. It will coordinate which locations throughout the city will open on Thursday evening or Saturday morning.

Participating agencies will either extend the total hours of operation or shift the original hours to meet the demand.

The main groups that would take advantage of the extended hours are the working poor and students, the committee said. Other people who experience "situational circumstances" can also benefit from the change.

The extended hours may have another beneficial byproduct: more donations.

“The other hope we have is we might see donations come in the door on Saturdays or on Thursday because people know we are open to business still,” Leighfield said.

“I'm excited because I think ultimately it will lead us to change the way we provide service to people.”

The agencies participating in the pilot project are:

  • Good Shepherd
  • Mission Service of Hamilton
  • Neighbour to Neighbour
  • Hamilton Salvation Army
  • Dundas Salvation Army
  • St. Matthew's House
  • Wesley Urban Ministries
  • Living Rock Ministries


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