An Ontario single mom who couldn’t afford fresh food helping others with rising costs

An initiative that started to help out her family and neighbours in London, Ont., struggling with the cost of food during the pandemic is now helping ensure 76 families’ fridges are full.

Leah Dyck, 34, the founder of the VanDyck Foundation which runs Fresh Food Weekly, said she started the food box program in 2021 when the company she worked for went bankrupt six months into the pandemic.

Even before losing her job, she admits affording things like fresh produce and milk was difficult on a low salary and as a single mother living in public housing.

“I was working all the time, and I still wasn’t able to make ends meet, and living in public housing definitely made it so I wasn’t homeless, but I just didn’t have it in me to find another low-paying job,” Dyck said.

“When I lost my job, I already knew that people were having a hard time being able to afford food.”

Dyck took that unfortunate event as an opportunity to try and help not only herself but her neighbours as well.

She started the Fresh Food Weekly website and contacted local farmers and producers to see if they would be willing to donate extra produce that she would then distribute to people in need.

Dyck said it’s through the generosity of local farmers she was able to continue helping other low-income families, and then in 2022, she started fundraising to buy things like milk, meat, cheese and eggs as well.

Now, two years after starting and one year after they began fundraising, Fresh Food Weekly supports 76 families every two weeks.

“The demand for this is huge. Every single day people are asking to come on the program, and I have to turn them down.”

More and more families are struggling with rising costs at the grocery store, with the Barrie Food Bank is reporting a 77 per cent increase in the number of individuals receiving food support. In March the food bank helped over 5,200 people.

Dyck said she requires proof of income to avoid anyone taking advantage of the service, which helps her better understand who is in need.

Of the 76 families, she said at least half are on disability, and some are seniors who don’t make enough on old age security.

“Some of them are single moms working multiple low-paying jobs and are still not able to afford food, and nobody is a criminal, yet they aren’t able to eat,” Dyck said.

Each person participating in the program is given an order form where they can pick and choose which products they need, and then those goods are purchased, packaged and delivered by a team of volunteers.

“What I want to do is make people feel good about receiving food.”

For Dyck, giving people options regarding the type of bread or milk they receive is essential, saying it’s not anyone’s fault if they can’t afford food because they are dealing with a disability or another issue out of their control.

“I’m trying and trying to give them the things that they really need, the basic staple items that you need to survive on.”

But Dyck said running the program is a costly undertaking, at just over $2,000 every two weeks.

Since she started fundraising about a year ago, Dyck said she has raised $97,000 and is hopeful she can raise $100,000 by the end of the month and that they can continue to get support from local businesses and corporations.

Over time Dyck said she is hopeful she can grow the program to support families every week and be able to help more people.

More details on how to help are available on the Fresh Food Weekly website.

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