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Use of food banks has risen to record levels in Ontario, with the largest annual increase in more than a decade, according to a report published by Feed Ontario.

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Across the Windsor area, the story is the same, said June Muir, CEO of the UHC Opportunity Center and president of the Windsor-Essex Food Bank Association.

“A lot of people still haven’t returned to work,” he said. “We have had a lot of new users for the first time. Windsor has many hospitality workers. Last year, the casino closed, restaurants closed, and many have not returned to work.

“Some who have returned to work are still so behind on their bills that it takes a while for them to recover. Think about the rent or food costs you’ve had lately. Think about whether you have to put the children in daycare. It all adds up and there is nothing left for food. “

UHC not only distributes groceries through its own food bank, but is also a supplier to 15 other food banks in Windsor and Essex County.

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Mohamed Chreif, a volunteer from the Windsor Unemployment Assistance Center is shown in the organization's food bank area on Friday, October 29, 2021.
Mohamed Chreif, a volunteer from the Windsor Unemployment Assistance Center is shown in the organization’s food bank area on Friday, October 29, 2021. Photo by Dan Janisse /Windsor Star

From April 2020 to the end of March this year, universal health coverage helped provide food 166,000 times to visitors in need at all food banks in the area, an 11% increase over the previous year. Over the past year, UHC registered about 10,000 people locally who are new to needing assistance from the food bank, Muir said.

Feed Ontario, which released its 2021 Hunger Report this week, details a record 592,308 people who accessed emergency food support across the province last year, visiting it more than 3.6 million times. That was an increase of 10% and 12%, respectively, over the previous year.

The numbers represent the largest annual increase since 2009, the agency said.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a major factor, but growing income insecurity and rising living expenses such as housing are also to blame.

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“Like gasoline in a fire, COVID-19 only exacerbated income security and affordability issues in Ontario,” says Siu Mee Cheng, Acting CEO of Feed Ontario. “This includes the province’s insufficient social safety net, increasing precarious employment and housing, and increasingly unaffordable costs of living.”

A new West End Auto Food Center opened at the Adie Knox Arena on Thursday, September 17, 2020.  The Windsor Unemployment Assistance Center is working with the City of Windsor and the Government of Canada to ensure continued food security for residents in need.  Leilani Logronio, a City of Windsor employee is shown on the track where food is stored for the show.
A new West End Auto Food Center opened at the Adie Knox Arena on Thursday, September 17, 2020. The Windsor Unemployment Assistance Center is working with the City of Windsor and the Government of Canada to ensure continued food security for residents in need. Leilani Logronio, a City of Windsor employee is shown on the track where food is stored for the show. Photo by Dan Janisse /Windsor Star

There was a 36 percent increase in the number of older people in the past year who turned to food banks for support, according to the report.

“While there are a number of contributing factors, the most significant is how the growing lack of affordability associated with housing and the cost of living has become, particularly for those with fixed incomes and low-income individuals,” Cheng said.

Another demographic highlighted in the report is people with disabilities, who make up one-third of all food bank users in Ontario. According to a sample of eight food banks, more than 60 percent of people who identified as disabled had less than $ 100 per month left after paying for housing and utilities.

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“Ontarians with disabilities continue to be left behind,” Cheng said. “Financial support provided through the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) is significantly below the poverty line.”

Meanwhile, local assistance from Feeding Windsor, which for eight years has provided meals to those in need, has slowed due to pandemic restrictions. Routine operations for its lunch or sit-down meal clubs have been impeded in church halls or local public housing apartment buildings, such as 920 Ouellette Ave and 2455 Rivard Ave.

Instead, meals have been delivered door-to-door in those buildings or via take-out at a handful of locations in Windsor and Essex County, including the agency’s base location in New Song Church in the 900 block of Drouillard Road. .

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“We are serving 350 to 450 meals a day,” said CEO Rodger Fordham. “We will have served around 100,000 meals this year. That’s down from 180,000 meals before the pandemic.

But the need is greater than ever. The demand is staggering. It’s over the top, but we’ve been limited in what we can do. They have closed buildings and limited them to the people who live there. The need is there, we are just trying to meet it to the best of our ability. Once (restrictions are eased) we will double our size. “

Roger Fordham prepares food at New Song Church, Thursday, December 2, 2021. According to Feed Ontario, demand for food banks has reached record levels in Ontario.
Roger Fordham prepares food at New Song Church, Thursday, December 2, 2021. According to Feed Ontario, demand for food banks has reached record levels in Ontario. Photo by Dax Melmer /Windsor Star

The pandemic not only created a greater need among people with limited incomes who suffered from “food insecurity” due to job loss, in addition to addiction or mental health problems, but also among post-secondary students who may be from another country or who previously managed with a part. temporary jobs in the hospitality industry that have disappeared due to COVID-19.

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Fordham hopes that meals will soon be available for college students inside the Assumption Church hall.

“The same needs that we had before the pandemic still exist, but now that the benefits and the stimulus programs are gone, everything is changing,” he said. “There are still a lot of people who are not returning to the workforce.

“The pandemic has shed light on marginalized people. What is going to be interesting in the future is to see how much someone is willing to take off their plate to help someone who has nothing on their plate. “

For more information or to make a donation to Feeding Windsor, visit online at feedwindsoressex.ca or call 519-560-7311. For more information on area food banks or to inquire about UHC services, call 519-944-4900 or visit online at uhc.ca .

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