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Food Insecurity More Evident Than Ever: Food Services Experiencing Record Numbers

Through the lights, tinsel, and wrapping paper this Christmas season, many Manitobans see how prevalent food insecurity has become. Many food services are being stretched to the brink. Whether it’s due to soaring food costs at the grocery store, housing, or the general cost of living, one answer is clear: the direction things are going is unsustainable. 

Peg City Kindness Crew

“Within the first 27 hours of opening applications, we had over 700 applications for families who wanted holiday hampers from us,” says Jai Malowski, a co-founder of Peg City Kindness Crew.  

The grassroots group, which is now incorporated, was created to help catch people who fall through the cracks. The group consists of volunteers and people who have faced the challenges of unemployment, addiction, homelessness, and finding enough food to feed their families. They’re united under one goal: to make a difference in people’s lives. Although filling these orders is a significant hurdle to overcome, Malowski states, “We’re not in the business of letting people down.”

Demand for Food Services

The demand is affecting all levels of food services in Winnipeg and across Manitoba. According to Harvest Manitoba’s Annual Report, food bank usage in Manitoba has increased by 30 per cent this past year, with an increase of 150 per cent since 2019. Of first-time food bank clients, 50 per cent were displaced Ukrainians. Harvest Manitoba also found that 40 per cent of their clients are employed, a 66 per cent increase from last year. Sixty-eight per cent of respondents are female, and 43 per cent of respondents have a disability.

The 2022 Canadian Survey on Disability (CSD) showed that 27 percent of Canadians aged 15 years and over have one or more disabilities that limit them in their daily activities. That’s approximately 8 million people. In Manitoba, about one in five have a disability of some kind. Individuals experiencing a disability, homelessness, or addiction face barriers in accessing services and resources, and that is why it’s so important to have delivery services for hampers. It’s one way to help remove some of those barriers. 

Winnipeg Christmas Cheer Board

The Christmas Cheer Board of Winnipeg is also experiencing record numbers. On the first day of their campaign, they received 30 thousand requests. The Christmas Cheer Board is one of Winnipeg’s oldest pop-ups. Starting as a group of churches in 1919 to support widows and orphans coming out of the First World War, the organization has evolved into a social service that aids families and individuals across Winnipeg during what is often an incredibly stressful time of the year. 

Shawna Bell, the Cheer Board’s executive director, says despite the challenges they experienced last year due to sickness and closures, they delivered over 18,000 food hampers and toys and will do their best to meet this year’s demands.  She adds as prices continue to increase, it continues to put a crushing weight on those already struggling. 

“I look at where we were at with the cost of groceries last year and going back to 2019. Going that far back, we’re at a 25 per cent increase in the cost of products. That’s significant. When you look at most services that people rely on haven’t increased, whether that be their wages or the income support they receive. I think you’re looking at a really heavy weight to bear for families living below, and sometimes not even below, above the poverty level. It’s a struggle.”

Canada’s Food Price Report forecasts overall food prices will increase by 2.5 per cent to 4.5 per cent. The average increase in 2023 was five per cent.

Community Helpers Unite

Food security isn’t simply a holiday concern but a systemic issue faced year-round. Food recycling and upcycling are two ways to combat this. 

In Canada, over 3.2 million metric tons of edible food go to waste annually, with a mere 4 percent rescued and redirected to those in need. Most of this surplus ends up in landfills. Community Helpers Unite (CHU) is one such group redirecting healthy and usable food. With their kitchen at Salvation Army Weetamah on Logan Avenue in Winnipeg’s North End, CHU transforms collected items from partners such as the Leftovers Foundation, Ndinawemak, and North End Community Renewal Corporation, among others. 

We started Community Helpers Unite after I saw the gaps in the system,” says founder and CEO Brandy Bobier. “People weren’t being fed.”

Feeding people through the Salvation Army kitchen and distributing that food isn’t the only way CHU is combating hunger, but by educating individuals on new practices that make food last longer -canning, bottling, and drying foods. Part of those practices also include personal gardens and encouraging people to learn about and become a greater part of their community. Through advocacy and hard work, Bobier hopes one day, the services of CHU will be unnecessary.

“When it comes down to it, we don’t want food insecurity to be an issue five years from now. We want to see these offshoot and rogue ways we’re doing food security and providing people with food security.”

Hopes for the Future

These organizations are all working diligently with dedicated individuals seeking to improve the quality of life for others. Though the holiday season has them scrambling to meet demands, they are still looking ahead with plans to address these challenges. Peg City Kindness Crew is looking at ways to become more efficient. It has goals to implement programs and actions for harm reduction. CHU is looking for more partners to rescue food and wants to engage further with education about food recycling. The Winnipeg Cheer Board is looking for a more consistent space they can utilize each year for their hampers.

All these organizations have one thing in common: they will contact various levels of government, advocating for new programs that would address the systemic challenges and policies that have led to the current state of food security.

– Ryan Funk, U Multicultural

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