“Different food banks give different amounts of food, and also some let you pick your preferred items from shelves, kind of like a small grocery store,” explains Trenholme, an Ottawa resident.
Now with a family of her own, the wife and mother of children ages 16, 15, and four, uses the food bank every other month or so for the whole family. “There have been lots of times we needed just a few things to get through until the next paycheque, and that’s when we’ve used the food bank the most. Especially when it comes to fresh food, when we buy groceries, it runs out fast and it’s been hard to keep enough in the house until the next pay.”
On the food bank, Trenholme says, “they are always kind and considerate. Everyone is always kind towards children.”
Serving Ottawa and Orleans, the Ottawa Food Bank provides food to 112 food programs across the city, which in turn service over 39,000 people every month. The programs range from the big downtown shelters, to community food banks, to meal programs, to after school programs. Of those 39,000 people, 37 percent of those are children under that age of 18, says Samantha Ingram, communications manager with the Ottawa Food Bank.
Ingram says that nearly 20 percent of people visiting its network of food banks are two-parent families like the Trenholmes (almost 19 percent of people visiting the Ottawa Food Bank’s network of food banks are single-parent families) and that 39 percent of its clients are families with children.
These numbers show that there is no one type of person who needs to visit a food program, says Ingram. “There is a mix of one-time clients and repeat clients. Some people are chronic food bank clients and have to go every month, others just need to visit once in order to make it to their next paycheque,” she says. “It is everyone from students to seniors. Families to singles. It’s unfortunately easy to fall on hard times these days with the price of food, rent, etc., increasing – but income not necessarily keeping up with the increase.”
While the stigma in using a food bank is shrinking, it unfortunately still exists.
“It is difficult for many people to admit that they need to ask for help,” says Ingram. “We want people to know that there shouldn’t be shame in asking for help. Just as you may need to go to the emergency room if you’re sick, you can visit your community food bank if you’re hungry.”
In February and March – and continuing into the summer – the Ottawa Food Bank experiences a slowdown in donations.
“After the New Year and the holidays are over, we see a drastic drop in donations,” Ingram says. “The holiday season is called ‘the season of giving’ and it is truly appropriately named. Donating over the holidays is top of mind, and as such we receive approximately half of our operating budget at that time. Once the holidays are over, people are focusing on other things and make a donation is no longer a priority for some. As we head into the summer months, donations slow even further as many are distracted by vacations and spending time outside with family.”
Luckily for clientele, the organization anticipates this, and as Ingram says, they work their hardest to ensure it does not affect its community.
Part of the solution is the Ottawa Food Bank’s own eight-acre farm, which yields 43 percent of the food that the Ottawa Food Bank distributes. This allows clientele to “receive more than just ‘cans,’ as was the case when food banks began,” Ingram says.
The organization also relies on its annual events, including the Holiday Food Drive, the Thanks for Giving Food Drive, the Food Aid BBQ, and the Annual Food Sort Challenge to bring in approximately seven percent of its annual revenue.
“We’re very fortunate that many people in our community throw third-party events,” Ingram adds. “We are very grateful for this incredible and generous support.”
Although the food bank is happy to have the backing of the community, executive director Michael Maidment looks forward to a time when the Ottawa Food Bank no longer needs to exist.
“I dream of the day when I can tell my staff that our doors are closing for good because our services are no longer required,” Maidment says. “In order for that to happen, we need to address the root causes of poverty and food insecurity.” According to the Ottawa Food Bank, 55,000 people in Ottawa consider themselves to be food insecure.
“We’ve been working to advocate change,” Maidment says. “We need our elected officials to make systemic changes relating to affordable housing, jobs/income, social assistance, and the cost of living – including the cost of food.”
For her part, Trenholme also tries to make a difference where she can.
“I’ve tried to raise food donations for the food bank in college, and did a segment with a friend for CTV morning about it (to raise awareness),” she says. “But my family still pays 52 percent of our total income to rent. We still access the food bank on a regular basis, so we aren’t in a position to give back as much as we would like.”
Someday. And until then, the Ottawa Food Bank will be there.
The Ottawa Food Bank’s youngest clients
Approximately six percent of the Ottawa Food Bank’s clients are babies under the age of two. To meet their needs, the organization’s Baby Basics Program helps struggling parents across the city by providing diapers and baby food.
“Baby supplies continue to be some of the most expensive products to purchase and the least donated item,” says Ingram. “Diapers, formula, baby food, and baby cereal are always in demand.”
In the last fiscal year, the Ottawa Food Bank distributed 63,550 pounds of diapers and 98,000 pounds of baby food, including formula, food, and cereals.
– Tracey Tong
How you can help
Consider volunteering with the Ottawa Food Bank. “We would be lost without volunteers,” says Ingram. “Our food sorting section in our warehouse is 100 percent staffed by volunteers, and we have volunteers help us on the phones, farm, at special events, and on our trucks.”
To get involved, contact the Ottawa Food Bank volunteer coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit ottawafoodbank.ca for volunteer descriptions and an event calendar.
Most needed donations
- Baby diapers
- Baby food and formula
- Canned fish and meat
- Canned vegetables and fruit
- Cereal (whole grains)
- Dry pasta (whole grain) and sauce
- Legumes (canned or dried)
- Peanut butter
- Rice (brown)
- Canned stews and chili
The Ottawa Food Bank is located at 1317 Michael St. and people are welcome to visit during its hours of operation to make a donation. Monetary donations to Ottawa Food Bank are also accepted at this location. Non-perishable food donations can also be left at the Ottawa Food Bank donation cages/bins at participating grocery stores.
By the numbers:
35 – Number of years in Ottawa
3,000 – Number of volunteers, who do everything from answer phones, to help on the farm, to sort food in the warehouse to delivery to food programs across the city
39,078 – Number of people served in 2018
$13,918,859 – The Ottawa Food Bank’s total expenses last fiscal year
How to get help
- Use the Ottawa Food Bank’s online lookup tool search your address to find the community food bank that is designated to your part of town.
- When you go the first time, you’ll need to bring ID and proof of address – this is so they know you’ve gone to the correct location, Ingram says.
- You can visit your community food bank once a month and receive approximately five days worth of food for everyone in your household.
- If you find yourself in need of support between visits, there are emergency locations to visit, as well as meal programs where you can go for a hot meal.