The pandemic has led to increased food insecurity, and Chilliwack has felt the pang of these global pressures.
But Chilliwack also has a range of community collaborations and partnerships working in its favour.
Those were some of the findings from the Chilliwack Community Food Security Assessment project, according to Larissa Kowalski, lead researcher at University of the Fraser Valley’s ‘Community Health and Social Innovation’ (CHASI) hub.
“COVID-19 has led to severe and widespread increases in global food insecurity,” Kowalski said.
Simply defined by the BC Provincial Health Services Authority, food insecurity is: “the process through which a household worries about, or lacks the financial means to buy healthy, safe, or personally acceptable food.”
“Chilliwack is no exception to this, as many residents who previously identified as food secure became food insecure during the pandemic.”
The food security research was funded by the Chilliwack Social Research and Planning Council, the City of Chilliwack, and Chilliwack Food Council.
“We conducted an environmental scan and asset-and-gap analysis to understand how contextual factors, such as economic, social, cultural, demographic, environmental, as well as local food system and related food policies, contribute to community food security,” Kowalski said, explaining the methodology.
The research looked at the strengths and weaknesses of existing efforts in Chilliwack, underlining “community partnerships and collaboration” as key, as well as high levels of volunteerism.
Asked what was working for Chilliwack, Kowalski replied: “Lots.”
“I have been amazed to see such a high level of community engagement from the City (of Chilliwack) and program providers, both paid and unpaid, who are working hard to ensure residents in Chilliwack are food secure,” the researcher said.
A north-south divide also became evident in terms of the socio-economic demographics of Chilliwack, whereby the northside households typically needed more support.
“There are significant economic and health disparities between residents in north and south Chilliwack, many of which are relevant to food insecurity,” Kowalski added.
That Chilliwack is surrounded by hundreds of farms was found to be helpful.
“There are several ongoing partnerships with local farmers who supply programs with local produce, for example,” the lead researcher replied.
A provincial health study from 2016 pegged food insecurity rate at 13 per cent in the Eastern Fraser Valley, or Fraser East, which was higher than Vancouver’s 10 per cent rate. One of the challenges faced by researchers was the lack of more recent food-related data for the region.
“It is likely that Chilliwack experiences comparable rates of food insecurity as Fraser East, with perhaps higher shares among Chilliwack’s Indigenous populations.”
She noted this is because First Nation, Inuit, and Métis populations across Canada experience food insecurity at a rate of three times greater than their non-Indigenous counterparts, according to stats from B.C. Centre for Disease Control.
So the high rates of food insecurity seen since COVID-19 will likely continue into 2022, with “growing levels of acute food insecurity” in some areas.
So how does food insecurity tend to manifest at the community level? With increased demand and longer lineups at food banks, emergency shelters, and programs that feed the hungry, as well as more projects as COVID funding trickled in from different sources.
“Pandemic funding also made developing some programs possible, such as the creation of an innovative food literacy program, and one to support food security needs of residents with dietary restrictions.”
One example was the Chilliwack Citizens for Change program, Extra FARE, creating food access for restricted eaters, which helped supplement healthy food for those who could not eat the contents of most grocery hampers due to food allergies or intolerances.
The poverty reduction task team from Chilliwack Healthier Community (CHC) network assisted in finding research participants. CHC is a large collaborative table, bringing together more than 40 municipal, health, and social service providers together to tackle the communities most persistent social issues.
Sources for the research included Fraser Valley Regional District’s (2020) Homelessness Count and Survey Report, as well as the Canadian Rental Housing Index. Other data sources include: Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS), Provincial Health Services Authority’s (2016) Review of Household Food Insecurity for Fraser Health, BC Centre for Disease Control’s (2017) Food Costing in BC and Canada’s (2019) Food Price Report.
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