Food banks a critical source of help for ODSP recipients

Ontario Disability Support Program recipients say the program is no longer able to meet their basic living expenses, increasing their reliance on food banks for survival.

As grocery prices rise, advocates say disability supports can't cover necessities

John and Susan Redins are living with disabilities they say leave them unable to work during the pandemic. (Omar Dabaghi-Pacheco/CBC)

Among the increasing number of people relying on Ottawa's Food Bank for survival are many living with disabilities, who say the money they receive through the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) isn't enough to keep up with rent, let alone groceries.

Angie Allard is part of a group of ODSP recipients calling on the province to modernize disability support. Five years ago she owned a house, had a nest egg and worked at a fulfilling job. All that changed after a car accident shattered her vertebrae. Now, her disability limits her work options. 

She said her monthly ODSP payment of $1,169 barely covers the rent for her apartment. For Allard, visiting the food bank has become a monthly routine.

It boils down to needing the food bank not just to top up, but literally to survive."- Angie Allard, ODSP recipient

"It's a feeling of shame.... You don't think you'd ever get to the point where you need to ask somebody to help you to feed yourself," she said. "It's every month you've got to make that decision, is soap more important than food? Are my medications more important than food? And it boils down to needing the food bank not just to top up, but literally to survive."

Allard points to the increasing reliance on food banks as a symptom of a larger problem. 

"I can't think of a single person that I know personally on ODSP who hasn't had to use the food bank at least once a month. The food bank has literally become a source of survival rather than just a top-up."

WATCH | The system is leaning on food banks:

Why the food bank is critical for some Ottawans living with disabilities

CBC News Ottawa

3 months ago
Angie Allard found herself relying on the Ontario Disability Support Program after shattering vertebrae in a car accident five years ago. She says the payments barely cover her rent, leaving her dependent on the food bank to make ends meet. 4:59

Food prices rising

Canada's Food Price Report predicts next year will see the highest increase in grocery bills of the last decade. The expected three to five per cent increase in the price of bread, meat and vegetables is expected to hit people living on low incomes especially hard. 

John and Susan Redins say they've already started to feel the pinch. The newly married couple relies on ODSP to help cover their living costs. They say going to the food bank every month has become a challenging part of this pandemic, especially as they continue to see the lines there grow longer. 

"One of the biggest things I learned is to swallow your pride," said Redins. "And watching all those people in line swallow their pride."

Both he and his wife are coping with disabilities. The little work they were able to do, COVID-19 took away.

Allard said it's the kind of thing that can happen to anyone.

"You know, there's a possibility for every single person [reading] this right now to end up with a disability. I don't wish it on anybody. I certainly didn't wish it for my life," she said.

Allard's wish this holiday season is for her advocacy work to compel more people to learn about income supports for those with disabilities, and why food banks are becoming a growing necessity in an increasingly expensive world. 

"It's something that I'm going to be grateful for this year," she said. "You have to make up your mind to to continue living, you gotta do what you've gotta do. And food banks are a part of that."

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