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Low-cost market can save Niagara Falls families thousands of dollars a year

Subsidized food increasingly important as inflation sends grocery bills soaring

By Paul Forsyth Niagara This Week - Niagara Falls - November 3, 2022

At a time when even families of means are feeling the squeeze of soaring food prices, for Niagara Falls residents living on low or modest incomes, it’s becoming increasingly challenging to be able to afford to put food on the table.

To Dave Wheeler, president of the Stamford Kiwanis service club, that makes the GROW Community Food Literacy Centre in the city’s downtown all the more important.

He and fellow Kiwanis member Gerda Huyzers were at the centre recently to drop off a $5,000 donation from the proceeds of the Kiwanis’ popular bingo program on YourTV.

Wheeler said he hopes that donation will directly impact kids facing food insecurity, noting that about 70 per cent of the members of the centre — which operates a low-cost market on Saturday mornings for people who can prove they live below the low-income cut-off — are children.

The centre, located at 4377 Fourth Ave., is the brainchild of volunteer executive director Pam Farrell, who realized the need for healthier food choices for low-income people in downtown Niagara Falls while studying food literacy and food security at the University of Calgary.

By establishing Canada’s first food literacy centre, Farrell said she hoped to challenge traditional food charity models to create one that’s more sustainable.

In the two years since it opened, the market has seen demand grow to where there are now more than 600 registered families. “We have new members signing up every week,” said Farrell.

Wheeler said increasing access to healthy food choices is crucial for kids. “If they’re well-nourished, they’re going to do better at school,” he said. “They’ll grow up stronger and healthier (and) later in life they’ll be less of a strain on the health system and get more out of life.”

It also establishes what can be lifelong nutrition habits, said Wheeler.

“When the kids come here, they learn to eat healthy and you establish good eating habits early on,” he said. “It’s really hard to break the cycle of bad eating.”

The need for healthy food downtown is huge: Farrell estimates about 75 per cent of members are living with diabetes.

The savings at the market are dramatic compared to supermarkets.

For instance, boxes of cereal going for just $1 can cost up to $6 in supermarkets, while a four-litre bag of milk going for $3.50 is more than $2 less than a grocery store.

While the cost for produce can vary because it’s purchased in bulk, Farrell said examples at GROW are carrots and potatoes for five cents, apples for 20 cents and large Roma tomatoes for 20 cents.

For a family of four spending about $70 a week at the market, that could roughly translate into about $3,640 in savings per year, said Farrell.

Supermarket prices keep increasing fast: a trip to a Niagara Falls grocery story on Oct. 28 showed a pound of Lactantia butter costing $8.79, a 2.63-litre bottle of Simply Orange juice costing $6.49, 454 grams of strawberries costing $5.99 and a 750-gram package of Schneiders Juicy Jumbo wieners costing $13.49.

Jonna Wolfenberg, community engagement manager with GROW, said low-income families just trying to make ends meet might be able to afford rapidly increasing rents or even enjoy a few luxuries by shopping at GROW.

“If they can save here, maybe now they can buy school pictures,” she said. “Maybe they can have a movie night or go out for dinner or put gas in the car and go out and see the Festival of Lights,” she said.

Wheeler said the fact that GROW shoppers decide what to purchase rather than just being told what they’ll get is also important.

“It gives a person dignity,” he said. “They can come in and they can buy food. It’s their right to buy healthy food.”



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