Chantal Mercier, Vice President of Good Neighbours Food Bank, understands how inconsistent access to healthy food can impact individuals and families.
Children who live without regular access to food have lower attention spans during 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.
Chantal partnered with Jennifer Glenn, owner of Pick, Plant, and Prune, to enhance the food bank’s ability to offer fresh food during the pandemic, when many more families have struggled to meet their basic needs.
With support from United Way East Ontario and the Social Services Relief Fund in Prescott-Russell, Jennifer launched a community garden in Russell that provides fresh produce to the 250 families—more than 1000 hungry mouths—who rely on the local food bank.
A place to turn in a crisis
According to a national-level online survey from the early pandemic period (May 2020), it’s estimated that one in seven families in Ontario are in a situation of food insecurity, and one in five food-insecure Canadians turn to food banks for help.
For many people, asking for any kind of help is hard, but it can feel overwhelming or embarrassing when food insecurity comes into the mix.
Food banks are an essential piece of the social safety net—especially during times of crisis. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve worked with our frontline agency partners, like the Good Neighbours Food Bank, to make sure there is no interruption in service for the people who need us.
But United Way also knows that there is a need for more holistic supports as well. We look at ways to enhance diverse social programs so individuals can gain back a sense of control and financial stability to better provide for themselves and their families.
Fresh produce is a vital part of food security
Jennifer was shocked to learn that there wasn’t a community garden in Prescott-Russell, despite all the rich agricultural land located across the rural counties. She had the idea to start one in Russell, where it was met with massive support from the community.
Throughout the summer and early fall, her 50–by–75-foot garden plot overflows with fresh produce, tended by volunteers who also benefit from the harvest. The garden is a place where people can learn while enjoying the outdoors.
Buying fresh produce can be difficult on a tight budget, and Jennifer wanted to provide people in the community with the opportunity to have fresh food without the hefty price tag attached to it.
All the produce from Jennifer’s garden is harvested and brought to Good Neighbours Food Bank each week, so families can have access to fresh, healthy food.
Jennifer always makes sure that whatever produce is left over goes back into the community for others to use and enjoy, to reduce food waste and support the local food ecosystem.
Neighbours helping neighbours
In every community, there are individuals and families who face barriers to services or resources, and who need support. United Way believes in building a region that is great for everyone—made up of healthy, equitable, and vibrant communities. Our food security partners in Prescott-Russell are helping to make this a reality.
Every day, thousands of behind-the-scenes helpers keep our communities safe and healthy. Volunteers and neighbours like Jennifer and Chantal are keeping the most vulnerable people connected and cared for—responsibilities made even more critical by COVID-19.