With case counts doubling every seven days, Omicron at large, and the Christmas season looming, A NEW MASS TRANSMISSION EVENT SEEMS INEVITABLE. All the warning lights are flashing red, and there's no excuse to be unprepared this time around.
While many things are still uncertain, here's what we know for sure: LOW-INCOME AND MARGINALIZED PEOPLE WILL BE HIT THE HARDEST. And when they are, they'll need food.
As a grassroots organization with detailed knowledge of our local partners and a broad national focus, MAZON IS UNIQUELY EQUIPPED TO RESPOND DYNAMICALLY IN A CRISIS. During the first wave, when many larger charities were tangled in bureaucratic tape, MAZON moved quickly to provide stop-gap emergency funding to 79 organizations in 40 cities and towns across Canada.
If the coming winter presents a worst-case scenario, we are preparing to do it again.
Despite the current environment of uncertainty, MAZON is facing this new wave armed with a trove of accumulated knowledge about COVID'S EFFECTS ON FOOD SECURITY, AND FOOD SYSTEMS. About the extent to which its fallout is EXPERIENCED IN DIFFERENT WAYS, AT DIFFERENT TIMES, BY DIFFERENT COMMUNITIES. About the local aspects of this global pandemic.
In order to prepare for the future, it is imperative that we learn these lessons from the past.
HOW DID COVID AFFECT FOOD SECURITY?
During the first four months of 2020, the number of households experiencing food insecurity jumped from 1.2 MILLION to OVER 2 MILLION 1. Families with young children were particularly vulnerable. According to Statistics Canada, these FAMILIES WERE ALMOST TWICE AS LIKELY TO GO HUNGRY compared to households without children 2.
The driving force behind these alarming statistics was twofold: JOB LOSSES and SCHOOL CLOSURES.
While the majority of salaried workers contended with continued employment in the claustrophobic isolation of their remote home offices, many lower income workers lost their jobs. In fact, hourly and PART-TIME WORKERS ACCOUNTED FOR ALMOST 80% OF JOB LOSSES during the first six months of 2020 3. Even among those able to keep their jobs, hours were slashed across the board 4.
On top of the simple supply/demand drivers of this income-squeeze, the closure of schools and THE ABSENCE OF AFFORDABLE CHILDCARE OPTIONS FORCED MANY PARENTS OUT OF THE WORKPLACE. This sacrifice disproportionately fell to mothers, who left the workforce at over twice the rate of similarly situated fathers 4 5.
Finally, the move to REMOTE LEARNING SEVERED CHILDREN'S ACCESS TO SCHOOL FOOD PROGRAMS, including breakfasts, lunches, and snacks at after-school programs. For parents already struggling to keep a roof over their heads, losing access to the food provided by these programs was devastating.
Gradually, and then all at once, these families joined the ranks of the millions of Canadians reaching out to food banks for the very first time...
HOW WERE FOOD AID SYSTEMS EFFECTED?
Even as demand for their services surged, VOLUNTEER SHORTAGES AND SAFETY CONCERNS FORCED THE MASS CLOSURE OF URBAN FOOD BANKS 6. Those that remained open were overwhelmed.
The Daily Bread Food Bank, a major food re-distributor in Toronto, reported that the rate of new clients accessing their food banks had tripled since the beginning of the pandemic 7. FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER, NEW CLIENTS OUTNUMBERED EXISTING CLIENTS AT FOOD BANKS, with new requests for support having increased by over 60% compared to the year prior 7.
At the same time, program administrators – many of them volunteers -- were frantically adapting their programming in order to remain operational and safe. Food banks pivoted to delivery or pick-up models, drop-ins adapted to take-out meal models, and school lunch programs scrambled to distribute gift cards to far-flung students.
While certain adaptations were universal, such as the necessity to invest in PPE and sanitizer, it quickly became clear to us that that EACH OF OUR PARTNER PROGRAMS WAS GRAPPLING WITH A UNIQUE SET OF CHALLENGES. These challenges varied greatly from community to community, organization to organization, and province to province:
Some organizations faced drop-offs in donated food; others experienced huge waves of in-kind food donations.
Organizations primarily staffed by volunteer seniors faced a labour shortage, while programs staffed by young people retained, or even expanded their volunteer base.
In British Columbia the second wave reached its crest on April 11; In Alberta the full effect wasn’t experienced until over a month later.
WITH THE EMPHASIS BEING PLACED ON COVID-19 AS A “GLOBAL PANDEMIC”, IT IS EASY TO OVERLOOK THE EXTENT TO WHICH IT IS ALSO A “LOCAL PANDEMIC” -- its fallout experienced in different ways, at different times, by different communities.
As we look ahead to winter 2022, so much about the local pandemic remains unclear.
THE STATUS OF SCHOOL CLOSURES REMAINS UNCERTAIN. If schools do close, students stand to lose access to the lunch programs they rely on, putting additional stress on working parents.
SHELTER PROGRAMS WILL LIKELY BE FORCED TO REDUCE CAPACITY, denying beds to homeless folks even as the temperature drops.
OMICRON’S IMPACT ON EMPLOYMENT MARKETS IS UNCERTAIN. Over 1 million Canadians lost their jobs during the first wave of covid lockdowns. If even half this many are displaced during the early months of 2022, the stress this will place on existing food aid networks will be enormous.
PUBLIC HEALTH MEASURES AND VOLUNTEER SHORTAGES COULD ONCE AGAIN RESULT IN SWEEPING FOOD BANK CLOSURES – especially if Omicron proves adept at avoiding existing immunity.
Low-barrier income supports like CERB HAS NOT BEEN ANNOUNCED, nor have subsidies for food aid programs. The programs that have been rolled out as of December 23, 2021, CWLB and LLP, are tied to capacity limits and provincial lockdown conditions, and will do little for parents driven out of the workforce by school closures.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
To be prepared, MAZON has launched an Emergency Campaign. Every dollar donated to this campaign will support our front-line partners within the next 90 days with 0% overhead. As the local-level effects of Omicron present themselves, MAZON will direct funds to the hardest hit communities. Only if we stand together as a community and mobilize in the face of uncertainty will we be prepared to meet the demands of tomorrow – whatever they may be.
In other words: YOU CAN HELP.
STATCAN: Food insecurity and mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-003-x/2020012/article/00001-eng.htm
STATCAN: Food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic, May 2020 https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/45-28-0001/2020001/article/00039-eng.htm
CIC News: Canada lost more jobs amid third-wave restrictions https://www.cicnews.com/2021/06/canada-lost-more-jobs-amid-third-wave-restrictions-0618297.html#gs.k3eziu
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives: Left behind: Two decades of economic progress for single mothers at risk of being wiped out https://monitormag.ca/articles/left-behind-two-decades-of-economic-progress-for-single-mothers-at-risk-of-being-wiped-out
CBC News: Pandemic job losses threaten to leave women behind permanently, RBC warns https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/longterm-female-unemployment-1.5935882
CTV News: More than 40 per cent of food bank programs close amid pandemic, city says https://toronto.ctvnews.ca/more-than-40-per-cent-of-food-bank-programs-close-amid-pandemic-city-says-1.4885396
Daily Bread Food Bank: Who’s Hungry 2021 Report https://www.dailybread.ca/research-and-advocacy/whos-hungry-report-2021/
Government of Canada: CWLB and LLP details https://www.canada.ca/en/department-finance/news/2021/12/government-temporarily-expands-access-to-lockdown-program-and-worker-lockdown-benefit.html