Summer initiative aims to collect 18,600 lbs of food to address 'dire' situation at Cambridge Food Bank

Jamie Colwell, middle with hat on, gives a thumbs up near donated items at the Cambridge Food Bank including apple sauce, crackers, peanut butter and fruit snacks after their first summer food drive in 2022. This year, Colwell wants to see the Cambridge Food Drive Initiative raise more than 18,000 lbs of food for the food bank. (Submitted by Jamie Colwell - image credit)

A group called the Cambridge Food Drive Initiative hopes to collect 18,600 pounds of food through several events this summer to help support people facing food insecurity.

Jamie Colwell, co-founder of the group, said the need for services at the Cambridge Food Bank continues to grow, adding that with increased costs of food and housing, there are "people around us that are drowning in this storm."

Colwell helped to launch the food drive initiative in 2022 while serving as a volunteer for the Cambridge Food Bank.

He said the situation has grown progressively worse over the years.

"The current situation at the Cambridge Food Bank is dire," he told CBC News.

"It's been increasingly getting more and more [concerning] since our initial inaugural event in 2022 where they saw the biggest spike of food insecurity, and it's grown year over year."

Jamie Colwell and Cambridge Food Bank executive director Dianne McLeod take a photo together. This summer, Colwell ran a fundraising campaign for the food bank to help purchase back-to-school snacks. It's the third fundraiser he's run since 2020 and he's planning to do more.
Jamie Colwell and Cambridge Food Bank executive director Dianne McLeod take a photo together. This summer, Colwell ran a fundraising campaign for the food bank to help purchase back-to-school snacks. It's the third fundraiser he's run since 2020 and he's planning to do more.

Jamie Colwell, left, and Cambridge Food Bank executive director Dianne McLeod take a photo together at the food bank in 2022. Colwell says the need for the food bank continues to grow, adding that there are 'people around us that are drowning in this storm.' (Submitted by Jamie Colwell)

He said even people with dual incomes are "choosing between keeping a roof over their head or putting food on the table."

According to a recent Food Banks Canada report, Canada's official poverty rate doesn't tell the full story of hunger and food insecurity in the country.

Experts estimate 25 per cent of Canadians are living at a poverty level living standard, compared to the official poverty rate of 10 per cent, according to the report.

The report says 30 per cent of 18 to 30-year-olds, 44.5 per cent single parent households and 42 per cent of renters can't afford two or more household essentials.

'A sense of urgency': Colwell

Colwell said summer is traditionally a difficult time for food bank donations.

"It is a difficult time for many reasons. One, you have your kids out of school, we have people that are away, so food drives are not top-of-mind," he said.

"It is at the top of mind once you get back to school in September leading into fall and winter months and then obviously leading into the beginning of the following year," he added.

"'[But] there's still people that are continually needing support throughout the summer and leading into back-to-school and this is one of the biggest challenges because their supplies are getting so short right now … so we saw it as almost a sense of urgency, and it's been a sense of urgency every summer to see what we can do to support our community," he added.

Dianne McLeod, chief executive officer at the Cambridge Food Bank, said while the community is usually responsive and donates when called upon to do so, "the one difficulty that we do have is that the need is increasing so rapidly that food is going out as quickly as it's coming in."

She said the number of people using the food bank is at its highest since she became the CEO.

"I'm looking at, for example, in April of 2023 we had 920 families visit the food bank and in 2024 in the same month, 1,841 families," she said.

"I hear from people who use the food bank every day that their wages are not keeping pace with the cost of living, particularly their housing costs are taking up the majority of their income and what income they do have left for purchasing essentials like food, their money just isn't going as far at the grocery stores it used to."

Although the food bank has fared well in terms of donations through the pandemic, the interim executive director Dianne McLeod says she worries because summer generally has the lowest amount of donations.
Although the food bank has fared well in terms of donations through the pandemic, the interim executive director Dianne McLeod says she worries because summer generally has the lowest amount of donations.

Dianne McLeod, chief executive officer at the Cambridge Food Bank, says while the community is usually responsive and donates when called upon to do so, 'the one difficulty that we do have is that the need is increasing so rapidly that food is going out as quickly as it's coming in.' (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

The CEO expressed thanks to people who have donated to either this food drive initiative, those who have brought food to the food bank or made a monetary donation.

"It doesn't matter how big or small one's donation is, it all comes together and helps us ensure that no one in our community goes hungry," McLeod said.

Last year, the Cambridge Food Drive Initiative raised more than 6,200 pounds of food and Colwell said they took the decision to set a target of triple that amount due to the increasing need in this, the third year of the initiative. He said 2,300 pounds from this year's target was reached last week.

Colwell said there are two more food drives planned for this summer on July 20 and Aug. 17 at the Cambridge Centre Zehrs and the Foodland in Ayr.

This year's food drive initiative also includes two community barbecues on July 6 and Aug. 23 at the Hespeler Zehrs in Cambridge and at the Hespeler Village Farmer's Market.

In addition to food donations, Colwell said people can also volunteer with the food bank or make monetary donations.