Hunger gaps grow as traditional food sources dry up

News Oct 02, 2009 Ancaster News

As if the faltering economy weren’t bad enough news for those trying to feed the poor, traditional food donations are shrinking, need is growing and prices for staples like rice, flour, eggs and milk are up.

It all adds up to an unprecedented challenge for local food banks as they try to fill the gap between supply and demand, says Joanne Santucci, executive director of Hamilton Food Share, which drums up donations on their behalf.

Having already witnessed a record of nearly 20,000 visits in March, food agencies this summer saw the number of people using their services increase by as much as 40 per cent over the previous year, she said.

That’s leading to concerns about the ability to meet needs for the holiday season and beyond.

“I think agencies are barely meeting (the need) and I know that between now and next summer is going to be a very difficult and turbulent year,” Ms. Santucci said. “We’re coming at it from every direction we possibly can to add more food onto those skids to get out to the front-line agencies, but again you’re battling a system that’s already starting to close as far as large contributions.”

Ms. Santucci said while community food drives are integral to maintaining supplies, they comprise about 15 per cent of donations each year.

The balance is raised from the food industry, but changes there in recent years have hurt donations, including the closure of CanGro Foods, a Niagara fruit-canning plant that had been “a very generous” contributor, she said. Corporate takeovers have also severed some of the traditional links with local supermarkets as the new owners focus more on profits or shift to nation-wide campaigns.

“It kind of almost eliminated the neighbourhood grocery guy to go to when you wanted to have a food drive or do a small, little coupon drive. Those kinds of relationships all but left the front-line,” Ms. Santucci said.

“Especially in the food industry itself, there have been a lot of efficiencies being brought to the bottom line. Food that would normally come to us would now maybe go to liquidation centres.”

Adding to the shortfall is that rising prices for staple foods have hurt the purchasing power of local agencies hoping to fill donation gaps, a situation that prompted the city to provide $186,000 in emergency funding this past summer, most of it to buy food.

Yet even with the special contribution, which added to the $328,000 in base city funding, Hamilton food banks and hot-meal programs remain largely self-sustaining, relying mostly on donations and volunteer labour.

They collectively raised more than 4.8 million pounds of food last year, operating on an overall budget of $3.34 million. Ms. Santucci said Food Share is working with local producers to find new sources of fresh fruits and vegetables to replace those lost from traditional sources, but the economic recession is making the outlook for other donations uncertain.

Emergency food planners are meeting with the city to develop a strategic plan to secure long-term supplies, she said.

“It seems like everything is hitting at once and that that’s giving way to gaps in the system as far as filling the shelves with donated food,” Ms. Santucci said. “Our local community has been our strongest supporter. They have provided for us the greatest ability to continue what we’re doing, but we can’t consistently count on them as the mainstay to keep it moving,” she said. “There needs to be other supports built into the system from other sources, not just food.”

Hunger gaps grow as traditional food sources dry up

News Oct 02, 2009 Ancaster News

As if the faltering economy weren’t bad enough news for those trying to feed the poor, traditional food donations are shrinking, need is growing and prices for staples like rice, flour, eggs and milk are up.

It all adds up to an unprecedented challenge for local food banks as they try to fill the gap between supply and demand, says Joanne Santucci, executive director of Hamilton Food Share, which drums up donations on their behalf.

Having already witnessed a record of nearly 20,000 visits in March, food agencies this summer saw the number of people using their services increase by as much as 40 per cent over the previous year, she said.

That’s leading to concerns about the ability to meet needs for the holiday season and beyond.

“I think agencies are barely meeting (the need) and I know that between now and next summer is going to be a very difficult and turbulent year,” Ms. Santucci said. “We’re coming at it from every direction we possibly can to add more food onto those skids to get out to the front-line agencies, but again you’re battling a system that’s already starting to close as far as large contributions.”

Ms. Santucci said while community food drives are integral to maintaining supplies, they comprise about 15 per cent of donations each year.

The balance is raised from the food industry, but changes there in recent years have hurt donations, including the closure of CanGro Foods, a Niagara fruit-canning plant that had been “a very generous” contributor, she said. Corporate takeovers have also severed some of the traditional links with local supermarkets as the new owners focus more on profits or shift to nation-wide campaigns.

“It kind of almost eliminated the neighbourhood grocery guy to go to when you wanted to have a food drive or do a small, little coupon drive. Those kinds of relationships all but left the front-line,” Ms. Santucci said.

“Especially in the food industry itself, there have been a lot of efficiencies being brought to the bottom line. Food that would normally come to us would now maybe go to liquidation centres.”

Adding to the shortfall is that rising prices for staple foods have hurt the purchasing power of local agencies hoping to fill donation gaps, a situation that prompted the city to provide $186,000 in emergency funding this past summer, most of it to buy food.

Yet even with the special contribution, which added to the $328,000 in base city funding, Hamilton food banks and hot-meal programs remain largely self-sustaining, relying mostly on donations and volunteer labour.

They collectively raised more than 4.8 million pounds of food last year, operating on an overall budget of $3.34 million. Ms. Santucci said Food Share is working with local producers to find new sources of fresh fruits and vegetables to replace those lost from traditional sources, but the economic recession is making the outlook for other donations uncertain.

Emergency food planners are meeting with the city to develop a strategic plan to secure long-term supplies, she said.

“It seems like everything is hitting at once and that that’s giving way to gaps in the system as far as filling the shelves with donated food,” Ms. Santucci said. “Our local community has been our strongest supporter. They have provided for us the greatest ability to continue what we’re doing, but we can’t consistently count on them as the mainstay to keep it moving,” she said. “There needs to be other supports built into the system from other sources, not just food.”

Hunger gaps grow as traditional food sources dry up

News Oct 02, 2009 Ancaster News

As if the faltering economy weren’t bad enough news for those trying to feed the poor, traditional food donations are shrinking, need is growing and prices for staples like rice, flour, eggs and milk are up.

It all adds up to an unprecedented challenge for local food banks as they try to fill the gap between supply and demand, says Joanne Santucci, executive director of Hamilton Food Share, which drums up donations on their behalf.

Having already witnessed a record of nearly 20,000 visits in March, food agencies this summer saw the number of people using their services increase by as much as 40 per cent over the previous year, she said.

That’s leading to concerns about the ability to meet needs for the holiday season and beyond.

“I think agencies are barely meeting (the need) and I know that between now and next summer is going to be a very difficult and turbulent year,” Ms. Santucci said. “We’re coming at it from every direction we possibly can to add more food onto those skids to get out to the front-line agencies, but again you’re battling a system that’s already starting to close as far as large contributions.”

Ms. Santucci said while community food drives are integral to maintaining supplies, they comprise about 15 per cent of donations each year.

The balance is raised from the food industry, but changes there in recent years have hurt donations, including the closure of CanGro Foods, a Niagara fruit-canning plant that had been “a very generous” contributor, she said. Corporate takeovers have also severed some of the traditional links with local supermarkets as the new owners focus more on profits or shift to nation-wide campaigns.

“It kind of almost eliminated the neighbourhood grocery guy to go to when you wanted to have a food drive or do a small, little coupon drive. Those kinds of relationships all but left the front-line,” Ms. Santucci said.

“Especially in the food industry itself, there have been a lot of efficiencies being brought to the bottom line. Food that would normally come to us would now maybe go to liquidation centres.”

Adding to the shortfall is that rising prices for staple foods have hurt the purchasing power of local agencies hoping to fill donation gaps, a situation that prompted the city to provide $186,000 in emergency funding this past summer, most of it to buy food.

Yet even with the special contribution, which added to the $328,000 in base city funding, Hamilton food banks and hot-meal programs remain largely self-sustaining, relying mostly on donations and volunteer labour.

They collectively raised more than 4.8 million pounds of food last year, operating on an overall budget of $3.34 million. Ms. Santucci said Food Share is working with local producers to find new sources of fresh fruits and vegetables to replace those lost from traditional sources, but the economic recession is making the outlook for other donations uncertain.

Emergency food planners are meeting with the city to develop a strategic plan to secure long-term supplies, she said.

“It seems like everything is hitting at once and that that’s giving way to gaps in the system as far as filling the shelves with donated food,” Ms. Santucci said. “Our local community has been our strongest supporter. They have provided for us the greatest ability to continue what we’re doing, but we can’t consistently count on them as the mainstay to keep it moving,” she said. “There needs to be other supports built into the system from other sources, not just food.”