By Charlie Senack
The Parkdale Food Centre is facing a difficult time ahead after needing to make some tough decisions amid cutbacks to service.
The “explosion of access” as they are calling it, paired with reduction in government support, has meant their hours have been reduced, staff have been let go, and their pop-up markets have been canceled.
“People are looking for any extra support for food as they can,” said Meredith Kerr, director of development and communications at the Parkdale Food Centre. “We are seeing people who are working two, three jobs and can’t pay for groceries. We are seeing lots of single seniors on fixed incomes coming in for meals.”
Demand rose during COVID-19 when more people suddenly fell on tough times. Kerr said for the first time in history social services were funded to an appropriate level, but now those increased supports have stopped. While the world might be returning to pre-pandemic times, inflation and the rising cost of living is now creating the biggest impact.
The Parkdale Food Centre serves around 200 meals on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Before shifting to their current model, lunch was served to around 75 clients.
While demand and costs have grown, the food-providing service prides itself on not cutting back on nutrition.
“Everything is so expensive. Vegetables and fruit are what’s really exploding in price and it’s what we need to lead a healthy life,” Kerr said. “In our meal programs we are certainly having a lot less protein, and we are relying on support from some of the farmers and partners in the food industry.”
A recent Statistics Canada report states that food prices have skyrocketed 11.4 per cent over the last year. Fresh vegetables went up by 14.7 per cent, with the price of lettuce climbing by 35.3 per cent. Fresh or frozen chicken costs shoppers nine per cent more, according to the January 2023 statistics, and fresh or frozen beef saw a cost hike of 3.1 per cent.
The rise in food prices meant the Parkdale Food Centre also saw increased use in their community fridge, which was placed outside of their building located at 30 Rosemount Ave.
Starting as an initiative to break down some of the stigmas around food access, the decision was made to shut the fridge down and bring it inside. In Aug. 2022, a police report was filed after someone lit the fridge on fire.
“It was often empty. There were some food scarcity issues that were happening around the fridge,” Kerr said. “Now we can ensure it’s always clean, people can access good food in it, and we can monitor what’s going in and out.”
What hasn’t changed is its purpose. Anyone who needs to access food from the fridge can still do so without interacting with any of the staff or providing any personal information.
“The demand is incredible. By bringing it inside, I think we realized how many more people were accessing the fridge than what we knew about,” Kerr added.
During the first year and a half of the pandemic between 2020 and 2021, over 14,160 meals were distributed by the Parkdale Food Centre. Over 50 fresh-eats pop-up markets were held, an opportunity for those in need to pick up fresh produce. They were primarily held at recreation centers and at social housing units. While the need is still there, the funding is not.
Staffing levels at the Parkdale Food Centre have recently been reduced to pre-pandemic levels because of the financial cuts, which will also reduce the amount of service they can provide. Priority is being given to the food center’s youth, kitchen, and grocery programs.
“My big hope is that some of our policy makers step up and start to shoulder some of this support,” Kerr said. “Our community is pretty special and when we come calling they always respond with so much kindness and support. You can come and volunteer your time with us or you can make a donation right on our website.”