In 2018, Ekta Amarnani had been working in the field of community food security and after fielding questions each day about where to access food, she decided to create a map that would be a visual guide to those in need.
“Pre-pandemic, I worked in community food security. A lot of people would ask me how they could access food,” she said. “There wasn’t a good spot for people to find that information so I decided to make it myself.
“After the pandemic started, it became evident how important something like this was.”
Amarnani put the map together with the help of Agincourt community services; the map is interactive and helps people locate food resources across Toronto with the intention of increasing access to food.
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“It’s meant to be a complete food asset map, so any food assets that we have in the city: green houses, community cooking programs, community gardens. I have started to add supermarkets as well,” Amarnani said.
“We need one place where people can find where to get food, whether they are going to pay for it or (seek out a) food bank or grow it.”
Since its creation, the map has been viewed more than 43,000 times.
Since the start of the pandemic, experts say food bank usage has continued to steadily increase.
“We catch people who are at the point where they can’t put food on their table and we have seen record numbers since March (2022), almost every month breaking the previous month’s record,” said Diane Dyson, vice-president of research and advocacy at the Daily Bread Food Bank.
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Dyson said Daily Bread has seen an average of 154,000 visits per month since January, and an average of 164,000 since March. In September, there were 186,000 visits.
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“Numbers have not slowed … (since the pandemic) we have seen rising inflation rates. Anybody who has had to move in the last couple years is now facing rent prices well above what their incomes are. We are seeing people who are working but they are in precarious jobs and may not be able to afford to house themselves and feed themselves,” Dyson said.
Dyson said while tools like the virtual map are good for helping people get access to food, it is not going to solve food-security issues.
“It’s also important to know that things like community gardens or food banks are not going to solve food security problems,” Dyson said.
Valerie Tarasuk, a professor at University of Toronto and principal investigator of PROOF, an interdisciplinary research program which examines household food insecurity and effective policy, said in order to address food security, changes need to made to social assistance programs.
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“We need to get to the root of the problem and I think that means improving the income levels of people on social assistance,” Tarasuk said.
“There are provinces in Canada that have indexed their social assistance programs to inflation and Ontario hasn’t done that … The desperation we are seeing in communities and the huge demand for food charity right now speaks to the fundamental problem of social assistance programs in Ontario.”
Amarnani stressed the map is meant to be tool to help people in the short term.
“If you need food right now here is where you can get it,” she said, adding systemic changes need to happen for a long-term fix on food security.
“I think food charity is a Band-Aid solution. It’s really not changing anything long-term,” she said.
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