Ottawa Food Bank Grapples with Accessibility Issue in the East End
Sara Woodill thought she would have an easy enough experience the first time she visited the food bank this past April. Her home at Des Forets Avenue is a 20-minute walk from the food bank at the Orléans-Cumberland Community Resource Centre. She says she can almost see the food bank if she makes it to the end of her street.
Instead, 27-year-old multimedia artist, Sara Woodill who dropped out of Algonquin College’s game design program due to financial reason, was told she had to go to a food back in a different part of the city; one that was much farther away. “I gave them my address, and the lady told me that I was out of district,” she said. “I looked at her, confused, and said, ‘That can’t be right. I walked here from my house, and it only took 20 minutes.’”
Unfortunately for her, this was the correct policy. Even though she lived close to the district that the Orléans-Cumberland food bank served, she didn’t live within it. She was given half the amount of food and referred back to her proper food bank, the Gloucester Emergency Food Cupboard as dictated by the protocol.
It’ll take her almost two hours to walk there and nearly 40 minutes by bus
“I’d have to use the bus, which I can’t afford,” said Woodill. “Luckily I do have roommates who are able and willing to drive me to that food bank every month. But if I didn’t have roommates who had a car, or had roommates who weren’t available one of the days that the food bank was open, I basically wouldn’t be able to go.”
Woodill’s, unfortunately, the situation brings out the problem with food bank accessibility in Ottawa’s East End. The problem being only three food banks, one in Orléans, and two in Gloucester, have to serve the city east of Blair Road. This issue is one that the Ottawa Food Bank is hoping it can fix.
The main cause of the issues stems from how food banks are administered. The food banks operate in zones that correspond to your address just so they can manage where food is available across the entire system. In 2001, when the city amalgamated, many of the catchment areas for community services and food banks remained the same. Of course today it all seems unreasonable to food bank clients.
The Ottawa Food Bank may ask you to get service that is further away than another, depending on your home address.
“It’s historical,” said Erin O’Manique, executive director of the Gloucester Emergency Food Cupboard. “We formed in the former City of Gloucester almost 30 years ago, and took in part of Orléans.”
She acknowledged that the lines don’t always adapt fast enough to the rapid changes the city undergoes. “The lines, they were drawn years ago. Things like bus lines have changed, and communities have grown,” she said. “In an ideal world we wouldn’t have any boundaries, but again, that’s the not the way it is right now.”
She also said that the demand in the Gloucester area is quite large and that they serve a higher number of children than other banks in the city. O’Manique further stated that they dish out for days’ worth of food to families more than 2,000 times each month and this equated to over $12,000 worth of food getting distributed weekly.