Food insecurity: When emergency becomes the new normal

Essential needs
March 15, 2023 •  By Centraide
Distribution de denrées alimentaires

In July 2022, our team shot a video at the Service de nutrition et d’action communautaire (SNAC) in Ahuntsic. At the time, the community agency’s assistant director was already saying how the situation was critical in many ways. We reached out to her in early 2023 to see whether needs were still great. What we learned is that the crisis has only gotten worse.

“Our clientele is just growing, growing, growing,” said Louise Donaldson, Assistant Director of the SNAC. “Between July 1 and December 31, 2022, we started serving 335 new families, the majority of which are large families. We are also seeing people who haven’t come in a long time, who were getting by but had to cut back on their food expenses because their rent is so much higher now.”

To document the situation, the SNAC commissioned a volunteer to catalogue its clientele. Below is some of the data collected about the groups that use the agency’s services:

  • Workers who come to get food assistance increased by 8% in 5 months (from 14% to 22%)
  • Single-parent families increased by 5% over the same period (from 15% to 20%)
  • Two-parent families jumped 10% (from 18% to 28%)

The latest statistics reflect another important data point, specifically the massive surge in asylum seekers and their precarious situation when they arrive. Food assistance agencies are a gateway to our society for these people.

“On the ground, we’re seeing an urgency to meet the basic needs of refugees and asylum seekers who arrive in Canada,” said Youssef Slimani, Social Development Advisor, Centraide of Greater Montreal. “People need food and clothing. These are basic necessities.”

Louise Donaldson is at the front lines of this new reality: “What’s concerning is that most of these 335 new families are from immigrant backgrounds and are also very large, which means they are allowed to come to the food bank twice a month.” The agency’s regular clients are getting more and more worried. The assistant director explained how a client came to her in November and said, “There are so many people out there. Can you really feed everyone?”

“The situation is also very difficult for our volunteers,” Louise continued. “People have come to my office in tears because, on a human level, the situation is unbearable. Families come to get food without winter coats on. Some don’t even have a refrigerator to keep their food.”

For the moment, the SNAC keeps serving its growing clientele and doesn’t turn anyone away, and this despite a constant turnover in staff.

“We won’t give up,” said Louise Donaldson. “We will keep serving as many people as possible. If I can get more stock, then I’ll find a place for it. You can’t choose between two human beings: a senior or someone from a newcomer family.”

Centraide’s response

The problems described in this article are widespread according to many agencies working on the ground. That’s why we announced an additional $1.7 million in emergency food assistance in February to support 36 agencies in our network. The SNAC received $150,400 in assistance from Centraide this past year, with an additional $59,000 in one-time support to reinforce the agency’s social intervention and food aid and delivery activities.

Two young donors from the Emerging Philanthropists Committee visited SNAC in July 2022. Through their eyes, discover the essential mission of this agency in Ahuntsic.

Video of SNAC

1 out of 5 people receives our help.
5 out of 5 people benefit from it.

Let’s all lend a hand

Supporting a network of over 375 community agencies also means promoting an inclusive, poverty-free society.