While winter is always a tough time for the Ottawa Food Bank, the recession has made this past year extra difficult.
“It’s been tight,” said Peter Tilley, executive director of the Ottawa Food Bank of the last year. “We hear that Ottawa is insulated and hasn’t been hit as hard as other cities, but we’ve had our challenges too.”
While 12 tons of food leaves the Michael St. warehouse every working day to help 43,000 people, including 16,000 children, with emergency food assistance each month, statistics show that food bank visits are up. Usage was up five per cent in July, August and September over the previous year, Tilley said.
“And we saw an increase in the numbers of first-time users, which have gone up by 12 per cent.”
Winter is always difficult, with local families struggling to pay heating bills and to put Christmas dinner on the table, Tilley said.
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This week, Ottawa residents have several ways to help out a good cause.
This Saturday, the 25th annual OC Transpo Loblaws food drive will be held at 19 Loblaws, Superstore and Your Independent Grocer locations across the city.
Founded the same year that the Ottawa Food Bank began, the event remains one of the biggest drives in the city, bringing in more than 80,000 pounds of food every year, said Tilley. While OC Transpo donates the use of the buses, drivers volunteer their time collect food outside store locations.
Most of the food collected through the Ottawa Food Bank goes to the city’s emergency grocery hamper program, but the food bank also supports 135 other programs in Ottawa, including St. Mary’s Home, the Dave Smith Treatment Centre, breakfast programs and shelters like the Salvation Army.
“This is as basic as it gets,” said Tilley. “We’re providing life’s basic necessities.”
Another fundraiser will be held at Rinaldo Hair Designers and Spa on Sunday. The George St. spa will donate the entire day’s sales to the food bank and collect non-perishable food donations.