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Hunger Forum aims to fight food insecurity in Waterloo region

Organizations like the Cambridge Food Bank and Food4Kids Waterloo Region are trying to end the stigma around food insecurity

Led by the Cambridge Food Bank, several community organizations, city councillors and students attended the first annual Hunger Forum at the Cambridge School of Architecture on Thursday.

The forum was used as a platform to showcase the work the food bank and its various partners do in the community and to educate youth about food insecurity.

“We want to let people in the community know what the Cambridge Food Bank is and how we work with a variety of partners to ensure everyone has food,” Dianne McLeod, executive director of the Cambridge Food Bank said.

“We also want to engage our young people because they’re going to be the next generation of philanthropists and they have really creative ideas. We want to tap into them while they’re young.”

The youth in attendance, who came from schools across the region, sat in on presentations about food insecurity and how it's being addressed.

Once the educational portion of the day was complete, they broke off and began brainstorming ideas for new donation boxes for the food bank.

Incorporating and engaging youth is imperative to the continuous efforts of combating food insecurity, McLeod says. Approximately 32 per cent of people who access the food bank in the city are children.

“We pride ourselves on involving all the people who we serve in the decisions that we make,” she said.

“Our youth are very bright. I hope they learn a little bit about what hunger means in our community and who can be hungry because it can be anyone.”

McLeod admits there’s still stigma around the use of the food bank but events like the Hunger Forum are designed to help eliminate misconceptions.

“Involving the next generation, they will have a different perspective of the food bank,” she said.

“While we do provide emergency food when people are hungry, we do a lot of other work that involves promoting health.”

Food4Kids Waterloo Region was also in attendance and works in tandem with the Cambridge Food Bank, providing access to food on weekends and during school breaks to children who may otherwise go without. 

The organization serves 22 schools and roughly 300 children in the city.

“Everyone knows the Cambridge Food Bank but not everyone knows Food4Kids,” Cali Dubois, program coordinator, said.

“The food bank helps us connect with families. If we can’t help them, we can connect them with the food bank.”

Dubois says one of the biggest compliments it receives is that families feel supported and not judged when accessing food assistance. Much like her counterparts, Dubois and her team want to end the stigma for good.

“It’s very important,” she said.

“When people see our logo we want people to be positive and know that we're an organization that is helping children.”