Tackling the growing issue of food insecurity in Simcoe County

The Simcoe County Food Council encourages municipal leaders to tackle poverty head-on to address "staggering" levels of food insecurity in the region.

Data from the 2016 Census finds that one in eight Simcoe County households faces food insecurity, with members unable to afford food or skip meals.

The pandemic has only deepened the crisis.

"I've seen numbers now, where households it's one in six, and then with children, one in four," says Simcoe County Food Council Community coordinator Courtney O'Neill.

The group is presenting to city councillors in Barrie and Wasaga Beach Monday and Tuesday, respectively, to close out a virtual tour of the region.

O'Neill says at this stage, the food council is looking to forge connections and ensure that decision-makers understand that a lack of funds is driving food insecurity.

"Initiatives or charity food like food banks are not solving the problem. They are supportive for people, but they do not address the root cause," she says.

The sentiment is echoed by Chris Peacock, the executive director of Orillia's Sharing Place. He is also a member of the food council.

"The work we're doing here is a stop-gap," Peacocks says, gesturing to the food bank's shelves.

"If you truly want to solve the problem, increase social assistance, increase minimum wage, pay people more at companies to buy food, to pay for gas, to pay for housing. All those things that are continuing to go up," Peacock adds.

Much of the food council's work focuses on advocacy and leaning on Queen's Park to make changes.

But O'Neill highlights that prioritizing affordable housing and transit are ways for municipalities to help.