Ottawa

Food bank usage in Ottawa–Vanier higher than anywhere else in Ontario

The Ontario riding where the most people per capita used food banks to help fill their fridges and pantries last year was right here in Ottawa.

'It's telling us that there are things happening in our community that need to be addressed'

Helena Arruda, director of counselling and community services with the Vanier Community Service Centre, said she is seeing more people come to the food bank every month. (CBC)

The Ontario riding where the most people per capita used food banks to help fill their fridges and pantries last year was right here in Ottawa.

Feed Ontario released an interactive map Wednesday, detailing food bank usage per provincial riding.

It found that 15 per cent of residents in Ottawa–Vanier visited a food bank in 2018 — more than 16,500 people. It was the riding with the highest per capita number of visits in the entire province.

Three ridings in the city — Ottawa–Vanier, Ottawa South and Ottawa West–Nepean — were among the 10 across the province with the most food bank users per capita.

A combined 35,550 people went to food banks in those ridings at least once last year.

Rachel Wilson, director of communications and development at the Ottawa Food Bank, says there's a lot of "hidden hunger" in Ottawa. Around 15 per cent of people living in Ottawa-Vanier visited a food bank in 2018. 1:14

'Food ends up being a luxury'

Cynthia Greer lives around the corner from Partage Vanier Food Bank. She and her partner have lately been visiting the food bank about twice a month.

She's not surprised to hear her neighbourhood made the top of the list.

"It's a lot of low-income families," she said, adding that the cost of groceries has gone up and social programs haven't kept up.

"You still have to pay your rent, you still have to pay your bills, so at the end of the day food ends up being a luxury."

Cynthia Greer waits in line before Partage Vanier Food Bank opens its doors. She comes here about once a month. (CBC)

She gets fresh fruits and vegetables, milk, eggs, beef, pasta, canned goods, bread, cereal, peanut butter and some toiletries at the food bank. It's not enough to get through the whole month, she said, but it helps.

She comes toward the end of each month, and her partner visits at the beginning.

"In the last little while, they have literally saved us," Greer said.

There are between 800 and 1,000 people like her who get food each month at Portage Vanier.

Rachel Wilson, director of communications and development at the Ottawa Food Bank, believes there is a lot of 'hidden hunger' in Ottawa. (CBC)

Helena Arruda, director of counselling and community services with the Vanier Community Service Centre, said they're seeing more people each month.

"We're seeing a lot more cutbacks than increases in [social] services," said Arruda.

"People are paying more for vegetables and fruits and food, but they're not getting more money at the end of the month."

Cynthia Greer says she's been using a Vanier food bank once a month since experiencing a sudden loss of income. 0:41

'Hidden hunger'

Arruda sees a lot of large families and newcomers, but also many single-income families and seniors.

Rachel Wilson, director of communications and development at the Ottawa Food Bank, said the city has a lot of what she calls "hidden hunger."

She thinks part of the reason why so many Ottawans are using food banks is because it has a strong gig economy.

The Ottawa Food Bank is the main warehouse in the city, with five trucks a day distributing food to more than 100 agencies. (CBC)

"We have a lot of people who are employed by the government, and then after that the other jobs that are available are few and far between or on contract, and there are those jobs that are minimum wage and they're just not enough to meet the cost of living," Wilson said.

Affordable housing is a real issue for them, with 10,000 people on the waiting list, and the number keeps increasing.

Wilson said that although she knew there was a problem in the city, she didn't expect Ottawa–Vanier to have more people using food banks than anywhere in the province.

She said the study highlights the need to look into the community's issues further.

"It's like a canary in the coal mine. It's telling us that there are things happening in our community that need to be addressed," she said.

The study found that more than a third of food bank users in Ontario were under 18 years old. Throughout Ontario, the number of visits increased by three per cent over 2017.

Foodbanks across Ontario crunched the numbers and came up with top-ten list of provincial ridings where food-bank use is most concentrated. They found that Ottawa-Vanier is the busiest per capita, but that Ottawa-South and Ottawa West Nepean are also in the top 10. We explore a foodbank in this riding, to find out who's using it, and why. 6:43