'Pressure is on' as London Food Bank and community meals deal with record need
Food programs in London, Ont. are striving to keep up with rising demands as record numbers of people access food supports.
"We've never been anywhere near that in our 36 years as a food bank," said Glen Pearson, co-executive director of the London Food Bank. "We're seeing all sorts of people coming to the food bank that we have never seen before."
The London Food Bank said they're seeing more than 3,600 families accessing food per month, a number Pearson expects to see climb in the coming months. The organization also provides food for 30 other agencies in the region — all facing rising demands.
"The answer to food banks is not more food or less food. The answer to food banks is to help people to afford where they live."
The No. 1 cause of people coming to the food bank is housing costs, he said. Housing and rental costs have gone up so much that it's "difficult for them to manage." That is combined with spiking inflation for food, fuel and interest rates.
Food prices rose by almost 10 per cent in May compared to a year ago. Fruit, vegetables, meat and pantry stables like flour and cooking oil rose by 30 per cent.
In 2019, the London food bank was serving about 2,900 families per month. That number began to rise during the pandemic. The trend has been seen in other parts of Ontario with reports of record-high numbers at Toronto's Daily Bread Food Bank.
Inflation is also affecting donors, who are feeling stretched but doing the best they can, Pearson said. Donations typically drop in the summer further impacting resources.
"The pressure is on," Pearson said.
'Most I've ever seen'
The demand for food is also growing at London's St. Joseph's Hospitality Centre, a meal program serving breakfast and lunch weekdays on Dundas Street in Old East Village.
The numbers are "the most I've ever seen," said Tracey-Morton-Sader, director at the centre.
Daily visits are hitting around 500 per day between breakfast and lunch. A number so high, they wouldn't be able to accommodate them in their building. During the pandemic, they switched to take-out meals — asking 50 cents for breakfast and a dollar for lunch. Kids eat free.
Around 9:30 a.m. each weekday morning, a lineup forms outside the 707 Dundas St. building. They hand out coffee and breakfast and repeat the process a few hours later for lunch. On hot days, bottled water is given out.
They've seen "a ton of families" visit this summer — about 40 kids, said Morton-Sader. They send parents home with care packages and extra food to help families "stretch things along a little further."
She's seen people experiencing poverty "taken another notch down" in the last while. Those that used to stop by a few days a month are coming in for two weeks because their money isn't stretching anymore, she said.
"It's big numbers," she said. The organization runs off donations and is "on the fly at all times as to what the meals are going to be."
Morton-Sader is impressed with how the community is responding to the need.
"It's amazing the generosity of people that support us," she said. "People are really trying to help in the way they can help. It's always amazing to me, the generosity of people here in London."
That support will be needed in the coming months across the city.
"I think communities are becoming more and more aware that the government is still really required to show up, and in some cases they haven't — but it's also going to require real ingenuity from communities," said Pearson.
"We have to do what we can, and the community will just have to come through as they always have."
With files from Gary Ennett