The annual food drive for Stratford House of Blessing is Saturday and it could not come sooner for the local food bank.
“Numbers have been increasing phenomenally,” Eva Hayes, executive director of House of Blessing, said. “Food bank visits have doubled since pre-COVID … We had over 1,200 more visits so far this year than last year. The numbers are just skyrocketing.”
Still relatively new to the organization (Hayes took over as executive director in April of last year), she said that the circumstances of the food bank are changing constantly.
In October, House of Blessing saw 1,665 people, by far the largest number of people assisted in a month since its inception in the 1980s.
Hayes pointed to the rising cost of living and how stretched families are this time of year as the primary reasons, but also pointed out that usage of the food bank has always increased.
What is especially alarming now is the rate of working families using the food bank. Families with two working parents coming to seek assistance is more common than ever before.
“The cost of food is increasing and everybody’s feeling that edge,” Hayes said. “And we’re feeling it, too. We’re trying to make the dollars stretch as well. This year, actually, we ended up purchasing more food than in the history of the organization.”
The rising trend facing food banks is by no means a local phenomenon.
The recent Hunger Report of 2023, completed by Feed Ontario, found that 800,822 people used a food bank in Ontario between April of 2022 and March of this year. There has been a 38 per cent increase in unique individuals using food banks.
That is the highest single-year increase ever reported, double the figures after the 2008 recession.
Hayes was also quick to point out that generosity from the community is astounding – especially around this time of year.
Recently, House of Blessing received a $3,650 donation from the Enterprise Fill Your Tank program and a $5,000 donation came from Rideau Supply through a golf scramble event.
“People are already incredibly generous,” Hayes explained. “And in this current temperature, this current situation that Canada is in right now, I think people are being stretched.”
Representatives from House of Blessing will be at Craig and Jess’ No Frills, Food Basics, and Zehrs Stratford from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday to accept food and cash donations as part of the 2023 holiday food drive.
In addition, the Loblaw Feed More Families Holiday Food Drive continues. Taking place from Nov. 30 to Dec. 24 at No Frills and Zehrs, shoppers can make a monetary donation at the register and donate food in specially marked bins.
All donations go directly towards the House of Blessing. Hayes pointed out that 100 per cent of what they get through their doors, goes out into the community.
The most needed items are boxed mac and cheese, pasta sauce, canned tuna, cereal, side dishes like Sidekicks, crackers, pasta, and canned vegetables.
In addition, various toy drives organized by local institutions help the House of Blessing and the Salvation Army Stratford-St. Marys Regional Community Ministries, another local food bank.
“It’s ensuring that children in our community are going to have a joyful Christmas,” Hayes said.