The COVID-19 pandemic is a health and human crisis threatening the food security and nutrition of millions of people around the world. As the spread of the novel coronavirus started to take a toll on the hundreds and thousands of people living within the Mississauga region, a deep concerning thought hangs in the back: How will COVID-19 impact food insecurity in our community, and our local food banks?
To start, we should consider what it means to be “food secure” and “food insecure?”
Food security exists “when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. While food insecurity means having uncertain, insufficient, or inadequate food access due to limited financial resources4.
It’s important to acknowledge that food insecurity has long existed before the start of the pandemic, with a 2017-2018 report revealing that 1 in 8 Canadian households are food insecure, amounting to over 4.4 million Canadians, including 1.2 million children4. The report also found that in Ontario alone, 84% of people live in food-insecure households4. These significant figures provide a glimpse of what food insecurity looks like within Canada.
How has the COVID-19 Impacted Food Banks?
Providing food to those in need can be difficult at the best of times. With COVID-19, that task just got harder. Yet food banks continue to be leaders in their communities in providing food to those that live with food insecurity.
Taking a look at a recent report released by the Daily Bread Food Bank “Hunger Lives Here: Risks and Challenges Faced by Food Bank Clients During COVID-19”, there has been a 200% increase in new clients accessing food banks in Toronto during the pandemic1. The report found that the severity of food insecurity has deepened, with one in four respondents of the survey reporting not having eaten for an entire day because they did not have enough money for food. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the frequency of going a full day without eating has increased from 56% to 67%1.
Most concerning, the report illustrates the heightened health risks and challenges faced by food bank clients. With the significant rise in food insecurity, COVID-19 has followed paths of inequity already entrenched in our society and has highlighted the vulnerabilities many food bank clients face daily. More than half the food bank clients who participated in the Daily Bread Food Bank survey reported increased risk to severe illness from COVID-19 due to underlying health conditions and/or older age. The vulnerability of these food bank clients to severe illness from COVID-19 is nearly double that faced by the Canadian population as a whole1.
What’s Being Done About Food Insecurity?
Under the Food Policy for Canada’s Local Food Infrastructure Fund, the Government of Canada is making up to $100 million available in emergency funding to Canadian food banks and other national food rescue organizations to help improve access to food for people experiencing food insecurity in Canada due to the COVID-19 pandemic3.
In response to the food insecurity across the province, Feed Ontario started a program to distribute 450,000 boxes of items to food banks across the province. Each box contains a week’s worth of food as they’re meant for food banks who are facing ongoing challenges2.
While with the generosity shown by a wide range of community stakeholders who have donated goods and money has allowed for Food banks within the region to continue operations.
The Compass food bank has safely continued to operate during the Covid-19 Crisis through adopting a hamper model to ensure social distancing and safety among staff, volunteers and clients. The Compass supplies food that meets the required number of servings for each food group, including a healthy selection of fresh and frozen foods.
But there are still mounting questions about how long this can last, if the impacts of COVID-19 linger for a prolonged period, possibly for more than a year. Compounding the problem is a decrease in donations from various sources, as many individual donors don’t have access to as many groceries as usual or are facing their own economic pressures.
It’s necessary to consider developing holistic programs that address the underlying causes of food insecurity, rather than tackling food insecurity alone.
Organizations like Food Banks Canada, Feed Ontario, Community Food Centres of Canada, Food Secure Canada, Dietitians of Canada, Ontario Dietitians in Public Health, and many more are all calling for policies that address the root of food insecurity.
What Can We Do to Help?
You can help through volunteering or donating to The Compass or your local foodbank. Your donations will help fund direct support for our food bank, so that we can continue to respond to the impact of COVID-19 in our community, primarily through the acquisition and sharing of critical food resources to those affected, or at risk.
- Daily Bread Food Bank. (2020). Risks and Challenges Faced by Food Bank Clients During COVID-19.
- Feed Ontario. (2020). Aunch Innovative COVID-19 Emergency Food Box Program. Retrieved September 12, 2020, from https://feedontario.ca/feed-change/
- Government of Canada. (2020, September 08). Government of Canada / Gouvernement du Canada. Retrieved September 12, 2020, from https://www.agr.gc.ca/eng/agricultural-programs-and-services/local-food-infrastructure-fund/supporting-people-experiencing-food-insecurity-in-canada-because-of-covid-19/?id=1585855025072
- PROOF. (2020). PROOF: Food Insecurity Policy Research. Retrieved September 12, 2020, from https://proof.utoronto.ca/