As a proud member of Feed Ontario, Community Care of West Niagara has provided support to the residents of Lincoln since 1967. Rooted in compassion and integrity, CCWN is helping bridge the gap to self-sufficiency by supporting community members experiencing hunger. With community events like the annual Beamsville & District Lions food drive, taking place this September 18th, Community Care of West Niagara partners with Feed Ontario in our fight to end hunger and poverty across the province.
This month, Heather Williamson, Outreach and Support Facilitator at CCWN, walks us through the external factors affecting food bank use, innovative responses to COVID-19, and how you can support your local food bank.
Tell us about your community and the factors that affect food bank use locally. Who uses food banks in your community?
Community Care of West Niagara serves all of the Lincoln community, specifically those who identify as a low-income household. Lincoln, Ontario, is a small community, with a large passion for involvement and connectivity. In regard to factors that may affect food bank use locally, the stigma surrounding food bank use has large implications on whether or not someone will decide to utilize services. At Community Care of West Niagara, we strive to reduce this stigma, increasing the conversation around food bank use and the individuals who access our 30 plus services, especially with increases in food bank use as a result of COVID-19. The individuals who access our services are 100% from low-income households. 50% or more of those individuals are women, 1/3 or more are youth and children, and almost all are precariously housed. As an agency, we serve approximately 700 unique individuals per month.
What programs does your food bank provide to help community members meet their needs?
Community Care of West Niagara offers over 30 programs to our clients to help them meet their needs. To list some of our prominent programs and referrals, we offer a food room to our clients which provides access to perishable and non-perishable food items on a monthly basis, with free shelf access once a week. As an agency we understand that in order to address the underlying concerns that cause food insecurity, we are to offer more than just food services – and we do. We additionally offer our clients access to hydro rate reductions through the Ontario Energy Support Program, housing application support with Niagara Regional Housing, Holiday Hampers, a Back-to-School Program which offers school aged individuals’ access to school supplies, a toy room, a clothing room, Emergency Support Services which assists food bank visitors in ensuring they are able to pay rent and any other housing costs as a means to maintain housing, and so many more. We as an agency are focused on building connections with other agencies and expanding the services we are able to provide to ensure our visitors are equipped to restore self–sufficiency.
Do you have any stories from people impacted by your food bank that you can share?
“The best change for me since being a part of the CCWN family is that I never felt judged for needing assistance. The staff and volunteers have always been more then welcoming and I always feel as if I am taken care of.”
“CCWN has always had a positive impact on my life since day one. Without CCWN I don’t know where I would be in life or how I would have been able to feed myself. I had even been offered delivery services after I received one of my surgeries and was not able to transport myself. I am eternally grateful for the assistance I have received over the past two years.”
How has your Food Bank adapted and created innovative solutions in response to the effects of COVID-19?
In response to COVID-19, Community Care of West Niagara adapted and created various innovative solutions. A new phone/online emergency food support program was implemented, making it easier for clients to place their food orders in a contactless manner. We provided food to support new clients throughout Lincoln, de-centralized operations by opening a satellite office in Vineland, adjusted services from a standard shopping model to a custom hamper model, increased the amount of food provided monthly and increased the number of free shelf visits as well. Additionally, a drive thru service was initiated for peak program times, ensuring contactless pickups, as well as a home delivery service which ran on a case-by-case basis. Lastly, we sourced and distributed individually packed, ready to cook meals and implemented a food bank visit appointment model.
What trends are you noticing in this existing climate?
During such unprecedented times, where many were faced with unexpected economic challenges, such as sudden job loss, many community members were faced with realities they may have otherwise not been familiar with. Such impacts have left many turning to agencies such as Community Care of West Niagara to seek support and assistance through life’s difficult times. This existing climate has caused a significant increase in individuals accessing our services, many being from households that were in financially stable circumstances beforehand. Those already accessing our services have also faced increased hardships, not only financially but also in regard to isolation and loneliness. As a result of these challenges, we as an agency have made it a priority to make our services as accessible as possible, and ensure our clients are connected to all the resources they need.
Why do you believe the work of Food Banks is so important?
When addressing major social concerns such as poverty, food insecurity plays a critical role in understanding the ways in which individuals and households are impacted and identifying the ways in which they can regain stability and self – sufficiency in their lives. When an agency such as Community Care of West Niagara provides healthy and accessible food resources, it reduces costs associated with this ongoing need and allows for the individual or household to reallocate funds and reduce financial constraints. When we address food insecurity, we not only provide access to food. It is understood that food banks alone are not a viable long-term response to hunger, and that is why food banks additionally work to reduce the overall need for food assistance. Food banks are so much more than just a food source, they are a means to valuable resources and support.
What keeps volunteers engaged/why are volunteers so important to the world of food banks?
Volunteers are a crucial aspect of the operations of each and every food bank. At Community Care of West Niagara, ensuring our volunteers feel appreciated and recognized helps keep them engaged, reiterating to them how important their work truly is. Celebrating our volunteers’ birthdays, engaging in National Volunteer Week and providing recognition to our volunteers are small ways we communicate to our volunteers how valuable and necessary they are to us. Our volunteers are an integral part of our team, and are treated as such. Their feedback and ideas are always welcomed, as they first handedly engage with events, program delivery and our food bank visitors regularly. Volunteers are committed to making a difference, and this perspective energizes and motivates staff to continue to work in ways that align with our identified mission, vision and values.
What is something you wished people knew about poverty/food banks?
If there is one thing I wish people knew about poverty and food banks is the stigma that surrounds both of these complex topics. If we continue the conversation around food bank usage and the impacts of poverty, we may be able to in turn help and serve our communities more effectively. There are many individuals who do not access services out of the fear of judgement and rejection from the rest of society. By debunking the myths surrounding poverty, we will reduce this fear surrounding accessing services in the community. The stereotype that there is a certain group of individuals who access services is incorrect; many individuals from all types of socioeconomic backgrounds may face challenges at one point in their lives, leading them to circumstances that require support. Food banks do not only support those in need of ongoing support, they also support those who are experiencing difficult times that may be intermittent or a singular experience. For example, if someone from a household that is above the poverty line loses their job as a result of COVID-19, they may become faced with financial hardships they may not have otherwise had. During these times, accessing a food bank could be the one thing that ensures that family maintains housing.