Food4Kids sees ‘largest number of requests ever’ amid rising inflation, food prices

Hamilton's Food4Kids has implemented a so-called "triage system" supporting youth that are at a high level of food insecurity amid a climb in food prices not seen in decades. Food4Kids

A Hamilton food relief program for kids says it’s had to implement a triage system amid the recent rise in food prices and food insecurity.

Food4Kids, which delivers healthy food to an estimated 1,400 elementary and secondary school students at 75 schools in the city every week, says the initiative is currently focussing on youth at a “crisis level.”

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“We call that a level one,” executive director Cathy Haan told 900 CHML’s Good Morning Hamilton.

“Our priority is supporting those kids that are at that level one of food insecurity, so that that means … a child that is at severe risk of not having enough food in the home on a regular basis.”

The outlet is about to be swept up in a wave of price uncertainty expected to plague Canadians in the next year with food costs likely going up another five to seven percentage points in 2023, according to the latest Canada Food Price Report released Monday.

The report predicts price hikes will be seen across all food groups, but expects vegetables to see the biggest cost increase of six to eight per cent. Fruit prices are expected to see the smallest bump of up to five per cent, while every other category — meat, bakery products and dairy — will go up between five and seven per cent.

A Food4Kids bag typically contains breakfast, lunch and snacks for the weekend consisting of fruits, vegetables, bagels or english muffins and other ready to eat easy open products.

Haan says the program currently has “the largest number of requests” it has ever had and is relying on school administrators to judge which students are at level one, two or three based on food insecurity in the household.

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The service is accommodating another 250 kids in 2022 compared with 2021 and once again juggling a wait list after eliminating the standby measure in early 2019 which had 500 needy children on hold for aid.

“So we have had to start a wait list because we’ve reached our program capacity now,” Haan explained.

“That said, we never turn away kids that are at that crisis level. We will always put those kids directly and immediately into our program.”

Researchers say a typical family of four in Canada will be forced to shell out an average of $16,288 on food over the course of 2023 — an increase of $1,065 from this year. A two-adult household will spend $7,711, a bump of more than $500 from 2022.

Despite getting bulk discounts on food products, up to 50 per cent in some cases, Hamilton Food Share says it will still feel the heat with a demand to increase like it has never seen before, particularly with the holiday season just ahead.

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Joanne Santucci, CEO of Hamilton Food Share, says an estimated 11,000 households representing over 30,000 people will likely reach out at Christmas alone this year.

She says that would be the largest number the outlet, which gathers food and raises funds for the city’s food programs, has had since starting some 32 years ago as a temporary response to a recession.

“More people are coming, which we can handle at this moment, but the people who are coming are falling deeper into poverty,” Santucci told Global News.

“They’re needing more than one visit to come to make ends meet, so I think people are starting to lose their fight with poverty because they have nothing to combat it with.”

— with files from Anne Gaviola and Sean Boynton 

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