Our Research Helps Push for Change

As food banks across Canada work hard to ensure that people do not have to worry about their next meal, our staff are also working to find long-term solutions to ensure that people are no longer suffering from hunger. This is something that Richard Matern, Director of Research, takes seriously.

“I am really proud that we, as a team, are able to work on those two fronts: bringing to light the importance of the immediate need, as well as finding long term, crucial solutions to food insecurity. My focus is mainly on finding long term solutions, and we do that by conducting large research projects based on food bank demand and the driving forces behind food bank usage. Doing research is so important. It supports advocacy and adds to the evidence needed for the government to take action”.

Fortunately, there are also others who take the time to research the detrimental effects of food insecurity in Canada.

“I also look at external research. There are many food banks that do their own research across Canada. There has also been a lot of research on how food insecurity affects various aspects of one’s life, impacting not only the individual but also society. For example, there has been some research on how food insecurity affects mental health. And I like to look at all of these findings to see where our research fits into the overall picture”.

However, research in this field does not come without its set of challenges. 

“Collecting data takes a lot of time, persistence and patience. There are so many issues that exist, such as delays in data reporting or the integration of a new client database which can impact numbers being reported. We also have a large network with varying capacities and tools with which to collect information. This can be especially difficult when they are seeing a high volume of clients every day, or maybe there is just not enough staff to collect all the data. When COVID-19 happened, these difficulties were magnified. But when you are able to collect that data, it’s gold.” 

Each challenge is a learning opportunity. 

“We learned a lot over the years. We know that we need to create a better way to help the network collect data and make it more accessible. This year we created a new online survey platform to help make things a bit easier for the network. We also understand the limitations that exist due to the pandemic, such as time limitations and social distancing requirements at the front lines. We realized that it is important to be short and sweet and focus on what we really need. We’ve always kept these things in mind, but the pandemic made it even more clear. Time is limited and spread thin”. 

As the Director of Research, Richard has been able to visit some exceptional food banks. He recalls a story that moved him. 

“We did a tour of a food bank in Barrie and there were all types of foods and lots of aisles, just like a grocery store, and there was one small section set aside that had birthday cakes, candles, and other things parents needed to help their kids have a birthday celebration. This is what really struck me. Seeing how poverty not only impacts your ability to afford food, but also being able to participate in life milestones, or being able to provide your loved ones with a gift on special occasions. It’s so gratifying to know that food banks are thinking of these details and doing what they can to help make things better”. 

This is part of what keeps Richard going every day.  

“I am so amazed by the work that the food banks have been doing. They work so hard and they are so devoted in supporting their clients. Even in the most uncertain times, food banks in Canada are still there helping in any way they can to meet the needs of clients. Despite the uncertainties, they are able to adapt quickly to almost any situation. And COVID is just one example. Sometimes things happen, such as the closing of a local factory or a natural disaster, client demand surges, and the food banks have to pivot quickly. This is what inspires me the most. I really believe in the cause, just like they do”.  

Canadians have been so generous over the years, and Richard hopes that they realize the impact they have had on people living with food insecurity. 

“I am extremely proud of living in this country, and the steps made on different fronts to try to make sure people had enough to eat during a global emergency. That was one of the purposes of the COVID report, not only share how COVID-19 affected food banks, but also show that donations made a real difference. It proved how food banks were able to so pivot quickly because of all the support they got from Canadians. I felt like this was my chance to say “look at what you are able to do”. I want to be able to help share stories like that. Donors ARE helping. I want them to see the beautiful successes they helped attain.”