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Addressing food insecurity in Toronto’s racialized neighborhoods
Community organizations in Toronto are looking to respond to the food insecurity they see in their neighborhood and are wondering how they will be able to continue these initiatives on a permanent basis.
As the COVID-19 pandemic enters its tenth month in Canada, Torontonians are organizing and mobilizing to find long-term solutions to the food insecurity plaguing the metropolis.
In the St. James Town neighborhood in east-central Toronto – one of the city’s most multicultural and densely populated neighborhoods – the St. James Town Community Co-operative launched a food distribution program for children in December. cultural needs of the population it serves.
Our goal is to provide the residents of St. James Town with dry products and fresh fruits and vegetables that are as organic and local as possible every second Friday
says St. James Town Community Co-operative Food Coordinator Yasmine. El Hamamsy.
To these are added a variety of spices necessary for the preparation of the various cuisines specific to the nationalities of the populations who inhabit St. James Town, such as chili, turmeric, cumin, or even coriander.
But the social worker emphasizes that this program goes far beyond charity.
We are in the process of creating a food buying club to be able to procure organic food for the residents of the neighborhood thanks to collective purchasing power.
This initiative, which employs two full-time and two part-time workers, exists thanks to a grant from the Canadian Red Cross which will come to an end in February.
The co-op does not have permanent space, but we were allowed to use the neighborhood community center, which is a blessing. Having a dedicated place to store food made a huge difference in the execution of this project.
The cooperative’s food program is currently trying to secure its future, in particular through a crowdfunding campaign which at the time of this writing had raised more than $ 14,400, which is almost all of its goal of $ 16,000.
Growing food insecurity
Located in northwest Toronto, Black Food Toronto is seeing a similar reality. Its officials say the Black, African and Caribbean communities they have served for 25 years were twice as susceptible to food insecurity before the pandemic.
Since then, the needs have skyrocketed.
At the start of the pandemic, we were making 80 baskets a week for 80 families, now it’s 460 a week
says Zakiya Tafari, program manager for Black Food Toronto.
Every time the government announces another lockdown, there is a wave of families asking for baskets.
Black Food Toronto serves households in the western parts of the city, including Mount Dennis , Jane and Finch , and along the Humber River , but some of its customers live as far away as in Scarborough. Here again, efforts are made to ensure that the food supplied to the community is culturally appropriate, for example avocado, plantain and even calalou in the summer.
According to Mr. Tafari,
There is a correlation between food insecurity and mental health. Many customers have told us that this food reassures them, and allows them to cook foods that reminded them of better times
Food insecurity won’t go away anytime soon
Like the cooperative in St. James Town, Black Food Toronto is also looking for a permanent space where it can continue its work after the pandemic, “because the need will continue too,” says Zakiya Tafari.
These organizations are looking for long-term solutions to serve their communities, because as University of Toronto food insecurity researcher Andrée-Anne Fafard St. Germain explains, “food insecurity occurs suddenly. But getting out of it takes a very long time”.
According to the latter, COVID-19 has created economic shocks in many Toronto households, which increasingly rely on food banks and community services.
Food insecurity emerges above all from financial insecurity, whether it is a loss of income due to job loss or reduced working hours, she emphasizes.
She explains that between paying rent, feeding her family, or covering a sudden expense like car repair, financial insecurity pushes families to make difficult choices and go into debt to survive.
In Toronto, and across Canada, our money isn’t just for food. There is the rent, the electricity, the telephone and the Internet, the food, the debts. All of a sudden, all of this is competing, and what we notice is that it is with the food that we compromise in order to be able to meet our needs.
“There is a study that was done in Toronto about ten years ago with low-income families. He found that people who are facing food insecurity will sometimes give up on certain services like the telephone or the Internet, but there with COVID, they cannot necessarily do that because the children need it for it school,” she adds.
Ms. Fafard St. Germain pointed out that community services like Black Food Toronto and the St. James Town Community Cooperative represent a reactive approach to food insecurity.
We do not make the problem go away, we provide for the need while it is there.
Long-term solutions are in order, she says, especially given that food experts in Canada expect food prices to increase in 2021 .