Syrian refugees are flooding Ottawa food banks
When Ahamed Hamami brought his wife and five children to Canada as Syrian refugees he wasn’t sure what to expect.
But one thing he didn’t expect is that he’d have to visit a food bank to feed his family. Hamami is a newly-registered client at the Gloucester Emergency Food Cupboard. Speaking through an interpreter, Hamami says the financial assistance he receives simply isn’t enough to cover the expenses of his large family.
And he’s not alone.
Executive Coordinator Gwen Bouchard estimates more than 400 Syrian refugees are using the small East Ottawa food bank, a 30% increase over the usual numbers. She feels it’s an unintended consequence of the Federal Government’s push to bring in refugees as quickly as possible. "I'm pretty sure the government did not realize the effect that all of these refugees would have on many of the local community agencies that help people in need," says Bouchard.
Bouchard says they have had to find volunteers who speak Arabic. And they’ve put out appeals for more food, especially culturally-appropriate items like halal meats, tomato paste, chickpeas and other lentils.
It’s the same story at food cupboards across Ottawa. “We're seeing the impact right now in about 14 different agencies across the city,” says Michael Maidment, Executive Director of the Ottawa Food Bank.
Maidment says it’s not just a refugee problem. He says many Syrian refugees are simply being put in the same boat as other low-income families. “The amount of assistance that people are getting is equivalent to social assistance. And we know that people on social assistance here in Ontario, they receive not enough money to pay for all their expenses,” he says.
Maidment says an average family of 4 on social assistance in Ottawa receives around $1,500 a month. 63% of that is eaten up by housing alone.
Making matters worse for Syrian refugee families, they tend to have more children than the Canadian average, yet Gwen Bouchard says they have to wait up to three months before they can receive the Child Tax Benefit.
Bouchard says the Gloucester Emergency Food Cupboard is certainly busier, but not overwhelmed… yet. She says more Syrian refugees are registering all the time.
Ahamed Hamami hopes to become more self-sufficient once the Child Tax Benefit arrives. In the meantime he is nothing but grateful for all the help he has received. He made a point of telling the interpreter he wanted to “thank the Canadian people with all my heart.”
A trip to the food bank in Canada is apparently still far better than the life he left behind.