Ottawa

Families facing food insecurity as pandemic drags on

Putting food on the table isn’t easy for many Ottawa-area families grappling with the financial impacts of the pandemic, and now some organizations are shifting their efforts to help those most in need.

Local organizations shifting focus to help those most in need

The Parkdale Food Centre offers people in need unlimited fresh fruit and vegetables. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Putting food on the table isn't easy for many Ottawa-area families grappling with the financial impacts of the pandemic, and now some organizations are shifting their efforts to help those most in need.

Abbis Mahmoud is founder of Operation Ramzieh, which early in the pandemic delivered food to seniors who were afraid to go to the grocery store and couldn't access online ordering systems.

Mahmoud told All In A Day's Alan Neal that now the operation is helping mostly younger people who are experiencing food insecurity because of job loss or reduced income. He pointed to hairdressers and restaurant workers who often rely on tips. 

"What's really sad is that a lot of people that normally wouldn't need help, they're really embarrassed to ask for help," Mahmoud said. "People are really falling through the cracks."

Need has 'skyrocketed'

In February, Ottawa Food Bank CEO Rachael Wilson said the organization had seen an increase in demand since the start of the pandemic, something she said could be alleviated by stable housing and a universal basic income.

Jehan Shorish, founder of Cornwall, Ont., eatery Sip and Scoop, said the family restaurant was initially offering free food to health-care workers, but quickly noticed how much low-income families in the area were struggling.

Shorish got in touch with the local food bank after hearing that about 1,400 people use it each month, including between 500 and 600 children.

"The number has skyrocketed, and it's really encouraged us to start this foundation to which we are looking to provide meals to the most vulnerable in our population, especially children," Shorish said.

Food is 'medicine'

Delivering food to vulnerable communities is having a positive impact on health, according to Erica Braunovan, manager of the Ottawa Community Food Partnership. It operates a program called Cooking for a Cause, which works with local businesses to deliver close to 5,000 meals a week to various social service agencies in Ottawa.

"We've got nurses in harm reduction sites telling us that there's less violent outbursts in their programming, and that people's abscesses are healing faster," Braunovan said.

She said the program has also been hearing from outreach workers who perform wellness checks on seniors, and say "they've never eaten so well."

"Food is healing and it's medicine and it helps people feel healthier," Braunovan said.

With files from CBC's All In A Day

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