It’s difficult to imagine that people, nearly a third of them children, go hungry in a prosperous country like Canada, but it happens every day. Food banks have never been as popular, and the term ‘food insecurity’ circulates through media articles and social media posts as fast as junk-food ads.
What is food security?
‘Food security’ means people have access to safe, nutritious food at all times, with no fear or ‘insecurity’ about the quantity and quality of what they’ll eat tomorrow. In 2020, Canadians witnessed a sharp spike in food insecurity with the mass shutdown of businesses and schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One in eight households in Canada was struggling to put food on the table before the pandemic. These families, including 1.15 million children, were at constant risk of going hungry. The situation is even worse now, due to the first wave of the pandemic – and will likely worsen if a second wave hits in the future.
How Canadian charities are working to end hunger
For centuries, charities have offered food and solace to people facing chronic hunger. Today, thousands of local food banks run by communities across Canada supply food and run programs about food access, food security, and food sustainability for vulnerable populations. Most of these program staff and volunteers know their neighbourhoods and communities — and know where needs are greatest. They run programs for schools, community kitchens, neighbourhood gardens, urban gleaning, seed saving, nutrition education and much more, remaining in touch with adults and children who need food.
Some charities provide only groceries and produce to people in dire need, while others provide food along with other assistance, such as social services, healthcare, mental-health support, or employment counseling. Still others take a broader view, and work with communities, local governments, and organizational networks to address the underlying causes of poverty leading to hunger in the first place.
Most of these charities provide frontline relief, because hunger is a basic, immediate need, and they build long-term programs from there. During the pandemic in particular, charities adapted, and ramped up their services, delivering grocery cards and food boxes to self-isolated families and individuals in need, and providing meal programs, such as Meals on Wheels, for neighbours and social service agencies. Some charities add medical care and crisis counselling, helping isolated seniors or individuals suffering from chronic health conditions or compromised immune systems.
Over the longer term, many Canadian charities (mainly through an army of volunteers) address the issues underlying food insecurity and unsustainable food systems, supporting community gardens (where groups of people grow their own food), gleaning end-of-harvest fruits and vegetables (food that would otherwise go to waste), and supporting food-security advocacy projects (with governments, businesses, farmers, citizens, and teachers). Their overall goal is to improve policies and programs to create sustainable, healthy, and regenerative food systems, as well as access to safe, nutritious foods.
You can help improve food security in Canada
Recently, CanadaHelps created the End Hunger Fund as a way to support these various charities and improve food security. In one transaction, you can give to more than 400 registered charities that improve access to healthy food across the country, educate people about food insecurity, advocate for bigger changes to food systems, and ensure fewer Canadians go hungry this week and over the long term. Gifts are pooled together and distributed evenly amongst the charities within the Fund for far-reaching impact.