It’s 2021 in one of North America’s most prosperous cities, yet Torontonians are finding it harder than ever to put food on the table. Food insecurity—the inadequate or insecure access to food due to financial constraints—has exploded since the pandemic began. One of Toronto’s largest food banks last year received the highest number of visits ever recorded in our city’s history.1
Julia Migounova, Director of Clinical Services and Community Outreach at the Bernard Betel Centre, has seen the explosion of Jewish food insecurity up close. The Centre is a seniors’ community organization that, among other initiatives, operates a Kosher Meals on Wheels program that receives UJA funding.
“11 years ago, our Kosher Meals on Wheels program was helping 50 or 60 people a day,” says Julia. “Today, over 600 people receive three meals from us on a weekly basis.” They aren't alone. UJA-funded food relief programs are now serving more than 2,000 clients regularly. That's seven times the number pre-pandemic.
Why is this happening? “Our clients have been greatly affected by poverty and its consequences,” says Julia. Nearly one in five of the Betel Centre’s Kosher Meals on Wheels clients are elderly newcomers to Canada, ineligible for government support. The remaining four out of five clients receive $14,000 to $18,000 per year in government assistance.
Already struggling with poverty, food insecurity inflames a host of other challenges for the most vulnerable. A Statistics Canada report notes “links between food insecurity and adverse mental health outcomes, such as higher rates of depression, stress and anxiety, and poor self-perceived mental health.”2 Holocaust Survivors are especially susceptible to these challenges.
Asher and Ruth3 exemplify the particular vulnerability of our Survivors. This special couple lost all their family in the Holocaust. Then they tragically lost their son to cancer. The pandemic left them homebound, unable to shop or cook for themselves. Before encountering the Bernard Betel Centre, they survived on tea and toast. For three years now, they’ve benefited from the Centre’s Kosher Meals on Wheels Program. “Without the assistance from Bernard Betel, we would not have survived,” they say.
For many like Asher and Ruth, this is an issue of survival. “As part of their deliveries, our volunteers will check in on clients,” says Julia. “Sometimes we are the only people our clients interact with. We have had situations where volunteers find clients on the floor that can’t get up, or clients who can’t get out of bed. We’ve had to call 9-1-1 so clients could get help.”
Your gift to UJA was a key reason why Bernard Betel Centre was able to touch—and even help save—so many lives. They have partnered with organizations across the UJA-funded network of Jewish social service agencies, including Reena and Jewish Family and Child Service, to provide meals for their clients who are vulnerable seniors as well. “As a result of UJA funding, we can reach so many people we otherwise couldn’t help,” says Julia.
1 Who’s Hungry 2021 Report, Daily Bread Food Bank
2 Statistics Canada
3 Names changed for privacy reasons
food kits to 800+ vulnerable Jewish neighbours through the Community
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volunteers who collectively gave 27,000+ hours to many initiatives building up our Jewish community
Passover food kits with at-risk individuals and families