We have a local hunger problem. Decisiveness and creativity are needed to solve it. 

The annual series of food drives and guignolées is an indication there are people in our communities who cannot afford to buy the food that they need. The Hawkesbury Central Food Bank assists 450 people (including children) monthly and had received 482 visits in October. The Hawkesbury food bank was anticipating it would supply 300 Christmas baskets to local households this year. In 2021, the Vankleek Hill Food Bank has seen a 50 per cent increase in demand over the past two years and had already received requests for 70 Christmas baskets by mid-November.  

Ever-changing economic conditions continue to pose challenges for people trying to put food on the table. Nearly two years of pandemic conditions have affected the economy. Inflation is now at a 30-year high, driving up the price of groceries. Even a pound of lean ground beef, usually the cheapest cut of beef, now costs eight or nine dollars. Bacon was recently “on sale” at a local supermarket for $6.99 per package. Even for working people, wages take time to catch up with inflation. Soon, the minimum wage in Ontario will increase to $15 per hour. The increase is welcome, yet it arrives at a time when a dollar buys less at the grocery store. Even for some working people, food bank use is unavoidable. 

Poverty is at the root of most hunger, and of course, there are numerous reasons for poverty. Food banks have become as much of a community institution as service clubs and minor hockey. We are fortunate to have so many people dedicated to ensuring these services are provided and clients are treated with dignity. However, the ultimate dignity for people comes from ensuring they have the financial means and skills to feed their families and pay for their own food.  

How can we make meaningful, structural changes to our society and community to reduce poverty? There are different solutions for different people. Task forces, committees, and studies are a sign of good intentions, but real action–with results– is what is needed. Addressing illiteracy among adults, teaching young people responsibility and good financial management, and encouraging community-based economic development could reduce the poverty which leads to hunger. 

Community gardens, food production facilities, and cooperative enterprises are also ways of improving the overall economic well-being of local people because of their emphasis on social benefits for the broader community. The responsibility for solutions to local poverty should not be limited to government, social agencies, and activists. Business has a role to play. It is in the best interest of local trade and commerce to ensure there is an educated, responsible local workforce. Not only do educated and skilled people make good employees, but they also make good customers.  

Until more creative and decisive solutions take hold, our local food banks remain essential, because the need to feed people does not go away. Poverty is an unfortunate reality. Food banks are an unfortunate reality. Do not forget the needs of your neighbours when the spirit of giving associated with this time of year has passed.