By Francis Baker
News Express Staff
Imagine losing a beloved spouse after decades of marriage, and finding you’ve lost that spouse’s financial support, plunging you into sudden, abject poverty.
Imagine not having enough money to buy needed prescription medication because your rent comes due.
Imagine having nothing in the fridge but a cup of milk and a few slices of bread, and days to go before another government support cheque arrives.
Those are the kinds of stories staff and volunteers at the Centre Wellington Food Bank deal with on a regular basis. Besides distributing food, the food bank has become a crisis response centre of sorts, responding to a wide range of needs in the community, says manager Fred Aleksandrowicz.
Volunteers act as informal advocates for people who come through the doors, help arrange interviews for government support, help with transportation in some cases, work on resumes and provide support for people trying to get out of poverty and into the workforce.
This month, the food bank will provide food for more than 300 households, Aleksandrowicz said. It will distribute between 3,000 and 6,000 pounds of food worth about $31,000 to those households.
“This time of year we’re seeing it get extra busy,” he said. It may be more expenses involved with getting children back to school, or the end of summer-seasonal work.
Centre Wellington food bank numbers peaked at close to 400 households at the end of this summer, but they remain almost three times the number the food bank served in 2008 before the recession.
Some of those are single people, while others represent large families - last year, Aleksandrowicz started seeing more families coming into the food bank.
Forty percent of food bank clients are children, and 40 percent are seniors whose pensions and supports haven’t kept up with rising costs. Many clients are trying to survive on Ontario government disability support payments - the roughly $1,100 a month Aleksandrowicz says is supposed to pay for rent, utilities, other expenses, and food.
Fifty-five to 60 percent of local food bank clients have a disability, and 20 percent are directly the result of employment downsizing, he says.
The local numbers and proportions reflect national and provincial figures in Food Banks Canada’s 2012 Hunger Count, released at the end of October, which doesn’t surprise Aleksandrowicz, since he participated in the count earlier in the year.
Across Ontario, food banks in March 2012 helped 412,998 people, up 3.2 percent from March 2011, and up 39.9 percent since March 2002; almost half the province’s food banks showed an increase in numbers over last year.
Of those helped by food banks, almost 43 percent list “social assistance” as their primary income source, with 28.6 percent listing disability-related support - the top two categories; 88 percent either rent or are in social housing.
“Thankfully, the community has been extremely generous, and we won’t have to cut back,” Aleksandrowicz said.
The food bank has just finished its Thanksgiving food drive, which including drives by the local high school, church groups and others brought in about 10,000 pounds of food, he said. The “stuff a limo” drive in front of Zehrs in early October took in 3,800 pounds alone.
Although the recent food drive stocked shelves, there are still items the food bank needs - gently used winter clothing, especially mitts, boots, scarves and hats for children is really appreciated this time of year, Aleksandrowicz said.
Food items urgently needed now are “sidekicks” style side dishes, cereals, canned fruit (except pineapple), dried soup and skim milk powder. Others in particular shortage are listed on the food bank website.
The food bank is located in Unit 12, 105 Queen St. West (the Marketplace building), Fergus. For information on the food bank, volunteering and needed items, go to centrewellingtonfoodbank.org or call 519-787-1401.