Guy Price, a former musician with 30 years of experience in the food industry, is one of the creative minds behind the Rideau Rockcliffe Community Resource Centre (RRCRC)’s Good Food Box program. In a vibrant room filled with posters and photographs, Guy packs boxes with an assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables that will be sold to individuals and families in need, at less than market price. Last year, 1,200 Ottawa residents purchased 20.6 tons of affordable fresh produce through Good Food Box, demonstrating the high demand for low-cost nutritious food.
The aftermath of COVID-19 has exacerbated the financial struggles faced by many. Rising cost of living and inflation continue to push people over the poverty line, forcing them to make difficult choices where access to healthy food is often sacrificed. While social services on the frontlines work tirelessly to improve their residents’ lives, they themselves are not immune to these economic impacts.
RRCRC is one of the recipients of the Community Services Recovery Fund (CSRF), provided by the Government of Canada and administered by United Way East Ontario. The fund aims to strengthen the community services sector by helping charities and non-profits adapt and modernize in the wake of the pandemic. Recognizing that food bank visits are at an all-time high, RRCRC is using the CSRF to better integrate its four food security programs so they can reach more people in need.
Food insecurity affects more than just the meals we eat.
Children who live without regular access to food have lower attention spans in class, hindering their ability to concentrate and succeed. Canadians in severely food-insecure households are seven times more likely to have moderate to severe anxiety, and are more vulnerable to a variety of physical and chronic health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension.
Throughout 2022, in collaboration with other Ottawa food programs, the RRCRC delivered 28,000 meals to 400 people in high priority neighbourhoods.
But this year, the community resource centre’s emergency food bank has seen a 30 per cent increase in visits compared to last year, and expects to triple the amount of food they distribute, to 30,000 pounds, in the second half of 2023.
The RRCRC’s food bank was not initially designed to cover the wide range of people that it serves today. They have had to continuously innovate to increase capacity and become self-reliant by implementing programs like Market Mobile, Social Harvest and Good Food Box:
- Market Mobile is a low-cost grocery store on wheels that serves ‘food desert’ communities where fresh food is not easy to find.
- Social Harvest grows fresh produce that stocks the emergency food bank.
- Good Food Box sells boxes of fresh food at below market prices to anyone in the community. Profits are reinvested into RRCRC’s emergency food supports.
With support from the CSRF, the RRCRC can continue to adapt its food security programs to be more nimble, accessible, and responsive to the diverse needs of its clients. They’re actively reaching people who don’t have access to internet or cell phones, supporting seniors who live alone, and delivering to people with mobility challenges at a time when food bank visits are at an all-time high.
Partnership and innovation: paving the way forward
United Way East Ontario has been a partner to the RRCRC for almost three decades. Sebastian, the Executive Director, recognizes that the funding opportunities, networks, and community ties that United Way offers have been essential to their successes. Together, our organizations help people meet their basic needs and get through crisis, while also working on long-term solutions to break down barriers and improve lives for the next generation.
Continued support from our generous donors and government partners will help us seize upon the moment of innovation and transformation that took place during the pandemic. This will help build the resiliency of the community services sector for years to come, and United Way is well positioned to lead this work. We’re using all the tools in our box—investment, research, advocacy, convening, fundraising—to reimagine what it means to support our communities holistically.
A strong social service sector is key to maintaining the social safety net that supports us all, and a healthy future for our communities.
Working alone is not an option. As it has been since before the pandemic started, our work is grounded in the principles of collaboration, partnerships, and innovation to address the greatest needs and have the greatest impact for the people who need us most.