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Empowering communities with innovative food access programs

5 MIN READ

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. 

Guy Price, Food Program Officer

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. 

“They’re making decisions like do I eat food or do I put gas in the minivan today.”

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.

“Poor nutrition actually causes further poverty and the need for emergency responses.”

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. 

Faheen Khan

“Poverty is not discriminating as much anymore, everyone is facing struggles… there’s a lot more need out there, so we’re trying to be more innovative in how we provide those services.”

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

“We would not be able to run many of the projects that we’re currently running without the Community Services Recovery Fund, to allow us to test some of those innovative ideas.”

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. 

“Community services are always under resourced and underfunded, so when we have opportunities like the community [services] recovery fund, we really try to upgrade our infrastructure and get ourselves set up so that we are more sustainable at what we do.”

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.  

“There’s a lot of new people facing the struggles, they don’t know how to access the resources, so that’s something for us to answer to as well, how do we get out there and how do we connect with people on a community basis, to let them know that our program is here.”

Help our community services innovate.
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Jazz found a job he loves at Krackers Katering, a social enterprise that employs people with disabilities and mental health challenges, empowering them to overcome barriers and achieve their goals.

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