Bank

‘We continue to navigate uncharted waters’: Food bank use continues to rise in Welland

Jon Braithwaite, chief executive of The Hope Centre, said the foof bank was the centre’s “anchor point”.

If you are shocked by the high food prices at the grocery store, you might also be surprised to find that the level of food insecurity is increasing in our communities.

This increased need can be seen directly at local food banks.

Josh Walsh, director of communications and development at Open Arms Mission at 22 Fifth St. in Welland, saw it firsthand.

Walsh said they were understaffed. They are currently hiring an assistant manager at their food bank location and a manager at their warehouse.

“We continue to navigate uncharted waters,” he said.

“Until we’ve covered those bases, we’re not hitting on all cylinders,” Walsh said.

Volunteers rallied to the mission in a big way. Volunteers work approximately 400 hours per month.

In March, the food bank broke a record with 915 customers that month. Over the past six months, there have been visits from over 800 unique families.

Last month they distributed 17,000 pounds of food. He said they distributed more food than they brought.

The mission is currently looking for volunteers to distribute flyers for an upcoming food drive to be held May 14 from 9 a.m. to noon with drop-off points across the city.

Amanda King, director of network and government relations at Feed Ontario, said the increase in food bank use is “unfortunately not something surprising.”

King explained that Niagara has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic because many jobs are supported by the tourism industry, which has shrunk, resulting in reduced employment.

Feed Ontario found that in September 2021, food bank use in the province increased 32% from pre-pandemic levels.

King said the problem is something that will get worse as inflation continues to rise, and that “food banks themselves are not a solution to food poverty.”

The Hope Center at 570 King Street in Welland recently received a $109,000 grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation to support the expansion of its food bank.

The center offers a wide variety of programs in addition to a food bank. Jon Braithwaite, its chief executive, said the food bank was the centre’s “anchor point”.

“We realized that we needed to pivot quickly and quickly so that we could continue to ensure that food insecure people in our community could be supported,” he said.

The food bank is designed to allow customers to choose what they want, based on a points system determined by family size.

In the first quarter, he said, more than 210 residents accessed the food bank for the first time.

He said that number was up 38% from last year. The number of children accessing the service has also increased by 35%.

“Last year, we had over 8,100 visits to our food bank. This year we are already close to beating that by over a thousand,” Braithwaite said. “You can see the need is great in our community when we have people who have never accessed our food bank who need to come and contact us, when we have more families accessing our food bank.

“Without the Trillium Foundation, we probably wouldn’t be able to fill this void,” he said.

He also thanks the community for their support.

“The City of Welland has always, always, always been overwhelmingly supportive of the work we do.”

For more information about The Hope Center, call 905-788-0744 or visit www.thehopecentre.net. More information about Open Arms Mission can be found online at www.openarmsmissionwelland.com or by calling 905-788-3800.

—With files by Chris Pickles

After learning that various local food banks were hiring new workers, Niagara reached out this week to find out more about the current food bank situation in our communities.