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‘Overwhelming interest’ for mobile low-cost food market in Niagara communities

Niagara This Week

Elaine Hall was a regular at the GROW Community Food Literacy Centre in downtown Niagara Falls, shopping for healthy fruit for her centenarian war hero dad.

In the time she made those treks to the centre that operates weekly Saturday morning markets offering highly subsidized food to clients who have to prove they live below the low-income cut-off, the president of Royal Canadian Legion Br. 479 in Niagara Falls saw the explosive growth.

“The lineups are crazy,” she said. “It used to go to the road and now it goes all the way around the corner, and more people sign up every day.”

That’s a clear indicator to Hall of just how badly needed that GROW — launched by volunteer founder Pam Farrell in a former Scouts building in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Niagara — is needed.

“We see the people out there who are starving,” said Hall. “They can’t afford the grocery prices. They can’t keep up.”

Hall’s dad, John Hamill — who saw action with the Canadian Army in the Second World War in Europe and Africa and who was wounded twice — recently moved to a long-term care home for veterans outside of Niagara.

But Hall remains a staunch supporter of GROW and knows Niagara Falls is not alone in having a lot of people facing food insecurity: there are what Farrell describes as “food deserts” in other Niagara cities and towns, too.

“I think they are really helping the community,” Hall said of the GROW model. “They are the most caring people.”

That’s why her Legion branch rallied to donate several thousand dollars toward a fundraising campaign underway for GROW to purchase a mobile food truck that will allow it to launch a mobile market, bringing the GROW model of healthy, affordable food to other Niagara areas where food insecurity is a permanent fixture.

Farrell said she targeted the Elgin neighbourhood of Niagara Falls with GROW, Canada’s first food literacy centre, because of the low income people survive on and the lack of healthy food choices with few supermarkets nearby. She estimates 75 per cent of GROW clients have type 2 diabetes, which diet often contributes to.

Unlike food banks, GROW clients actually purchase their food — albeit at a fraction of what it costs in supermarkets. But Farrell said that gives clients a sense of dignity.

“By giving a voice to historically disadvantaged and marginalized groups, especially women and those with disabilities, GROW has been instrumental in creating a more inclusive and dignified society,” she said.

Other community groups are also supporting the campaign for a mobile food truck: the Kiwanis Club of St. Catharines has committed $25,000, the Niagara Falls-based Branscombe Foundation has committed $60,000 and the Rotary Club Foundation $35,000, said Farrell. But the campaign still needs another $90,000 before the truck can hit the road.

Kiwanis president-elect Bob Romeo said members of his service club toured GROW and came away impressed with its impact on vulnerable people and decided they needed to get behind the plan for a mobile market.

“(We) can’t wait until it hits the streets to help provide much-needed nutrition,” he said.

Hall said it’s critical that people support the mobile market to be known as GROW on the Go, with inflation pushing up prices dramatically and healthy food choices being pushed further out of reach of people on low incomes.

“If people don’t help them they’re never going to get this truck on the road and they’re never going to be able to help the people that need it,” she said.

Farrell said there is “overwhelming interest” from communities across Niagara eager to have the GROW on the Go model brought to their neighbourhoods. “The demand for food assistance in Niagara keeps escalating, highlighting the urgency for alternative and more sustainable solutions like GROW,” she said.

Farrell is hoping the mobile unit will be ordered in the next six months.



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