Food insecurity and the related issues facing our community were all around us this week and stories about hunger-both the battle to make sure local residents have enough to eat and what kind of initiatives and programming can be developed to stem a troubling trend are detailed in this week’s edition of the Picton Gazette.
But it isn’t just locally we are finding out how tough it’s getting to make ends meet and put food on the table. Feed Ontario is the organization that oversees foodbanks in the province and the group reported this week the number of food bank users with employment-be it full or part time or seasonal, has increased 27 per cent over the past three years.
In total, 510,000 Ontarians needed the services of a local food bank between April 2018 and March 2019. The Feed Ontario report indicates the need for this higher-than-average usage was precarious employment situations (Contract and casual work) as well as lower wages.
Half of the users of the food banks in Ontario are over the age of 25 but are earning minimum wage and a third of those have a post-secondary degree.These statistics on a provincial scale are frightening as trends indicate the middle class is in danger of being systemically eliminated.
Locally, the food insecurity picture is much worse. According to the 2018 Vital Signs report, the number of county residents that are food insecure is 10 per cent and, according the Hastings Prince Edward Public Health, the Quinte region overall has second highest percentage of food insecure citizens per capita in Ontario.
The reasons for this locally are obvious to anyone even remotely in tune with the issues facing families in Prince Edward County- lack of attainable and affordable housing and limited and seasonal employment options being among the chief reasons more and more people are getting pushed into the margins at a faster rate here than virtually anywhere else in Ontario.
I know somewhat of the food insecurity struggles facing Prince Edward County residents because I was a user of the Picton United Church Foodbank around the turn of the decade. I don’t share this information as some way to invoke pity or as some inspirational aside but to illustrate how fine the line is on this island between having enough and going hungry.
It started with my wife’s prolonged recovery from a repetitive movement injury that was likely a result of her employment but wasn’t approved as a WSIB case.
As her recovery took its due course, her short term benefits ran out and, what was a two income household quickly turned into one.
Lest you, dear reader, are still under the impression community journalism is a lucrative profession, I’m devastated to inform you otherwise.
Thanks to some connections, my byline appeared in other periodical publications and, if there was a part time gig that needed a warm body anywhere in Prince Edward County, I was highly interested and readily motivated.
Eventually, after a few months, the bills overtook us and panic started to set in. Serendipity would play a part as an assignment took me to the United Church. Afterwards, I pulled my friend, former Food Bank organizer Pat Romkey aside and with a few broken words, I explained everything that happened to my family over the last six months and how dire our situations had become.
My wife recovered and our time utilizing the Food Bank lasted less than a handful of occasions but I was so grateful that this safety net existed and I shudder to think what might have happened had I not said something to Pat that day.
The line is extremely thin in this community and thank goodness people like Linda Downey, Seona Halsey, the good folks at the Picton Salvation Army, Food-to-Share and many others are there to keep families from being tripped up by it.
Good on Prince Edward County council for recognizing this and supporting Food-to-Share and good on Prince Edward Learning Centre for trying to start a food strategy that could help people in our community.