Ottawa, ON – As Covid19 continues to affect our community, The Ottawa Mission gathered with community partners and supporters to update the community on its new food truck initiative and to express serious concern regarding worsening food insecurity as a major consequence of the pandemic.
The food truck project was launched at the beginning of September 2020, and the need for its services across the city of Ottawa has grown exponentially in less than three months. “Many people who came to our shelter for community meals have been negatively impacted by the pandemic as well as people who were just getting by but didn’t have to come to us for a meal. Many people also went hungry because they couldn’t come to our shelter because of disability, lack of money for bus fare, or other reasons. We started the food truck program to bring meals to people where they live to serve even more people in need,” stated Chef Ric Allen-Watson, Director of the Food Services for The Ottawa Mission.
The food truck program began with five stops delivering about 100 meals at each stop. Now the truck has 13 locations rotating throughout Ottawa each week and delivers over 2,000 meals per week. Since the launch of the program, almost 14,000 meals have been served through the program.
Last year, The Ottawa Mission served over 1,400 meals every day and a total of over 520,000 meals. The addition of the food truck has pushed its daily average number of meals served to more than 2,000, and will push its yearly total meal count to well over 600,000. The Mission is exploring options to expand its food truck program through purchasing a second vehicle to reach even more people in need by broadening its network of community partners.
“We’re incredibly grateful to our partners and sponsors for their generous support. We couldn’t do this without their help. While we’re grateful, we’re also very worried about the increasing need we see each day. I’ve personally seen people who use our meal program who are so hungry they rip open the bag as soon as they receive it. We need solutions to food insecurity in our community,” Allen-Watson added.
Jim Foster, Owner of the Pelican Seafood Market and Grill, donated the food truck to The Ottawa Mission for at least one year to help meet the need for healthy food. “Our food truck wasn’t parked downtown during lunchtime since people have been working from home due to Covid19. We wanted to put it to good use and so reached out to Chef Ric and the rest is history. It’s one of the best things we’ve ever done.”
Pastor Mathew Feeley of the Ottawa East Seventh-Day Adventist Food Bank, one of the community partners of the food truck project, also noted the impact of Covid19. “Overbrook has many people who live in poverty and with hunger, which has now been made worse by Covid19. Our food bank has been in operation since April 2020. Over 100 people receive packages of food for families of two to six people. We’ve seen the number of people who access our food bank grow from 20 people since we established it in April to 120 people now in November. Many men, women and children depend on us to ensure that they don’t go hungry. We’re pleased to do our part, while seeing the need for nutritious food increase each and every day. We’re extremely grateful to partner with the Ottawa Mission with their food truck ministry.”
Ralwson King, Councilor for Rideau-Rockcliffe, noted the impact of poverty, food insecurity and Covid19 on his ward. “While Ottawa is a prosperous city, it contains deep pockets of poverty, food insecurity, marginalization, and now with Covid19, serious health issues. Of the 107 ridings in Ontario, Ottawa-Vanier, which includes this area, tops the list for food bank use. While 12% of Ottawa residents overall live on low incomes, over 30% of residents in this ward have low incomes. Half of the children in this ward live in poverty and many live with food insecurity. Overbrook-McArthur also has among the highest rates of Covid19 infection in our city.”
King also emphasized the need for policy solutions to address food insecurity. “We need a community-driven poverty reduction strategy for the City of Ottawa that includes ways to ensure that we’re making progress on providing healthy food for all our citizens. To do this, we need to have a food security coordinator at the city to lead this effort since we have a lot of initiatives but no coordination and no leadership from the city. We need measurable, costed initiatives and clear timelines to lift people out of poverty and ensure that they can afford healthy food.”
Ottawa Mission CEO Peter Tilley noted the connection between housing and food insecurity. “Hunger and homelessness are linked. A main cause of food bank and meal service use is a lack of affordable housing. People use these services when they have to spend more than they can afford on housing. In January, City Council unanimously declared a homelessness emergency in January. Since March, homelessness has worsened further due to COVID19 and the continuing lack of affordable housing. As Covid19 drags on, we see ever-increasing levels of need for both shelter and nutritious food.”
“In 2019, Nanos Research confirmed that people in Ottawa thought that homelessness should be the number one priority of City Council. However, the 2021 draft budget for Ottawa contains no municipal increase for affordable housing. The Mission will continue to do our part in collaboration with our partners and supporters to ensure that people don’t go hungry. But we need governments to do their part as well, both on food security and also on homelessness,” Tilley concluded.
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