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Cathy Hamilton takes a phone call from a Clementine Tower resident unable to walk down to the pantry in Ottawa on April 21.Spencer Colby/The Globe and Mail

Ottawa resident Cathy Hamilton is on a mission to alleviate food insecurity among the seniors living in her apartment building.

Ms. Hamilton, 64, runs a food pantry out of two small storage rooms in the lobby of Clementine Towers, a 258-unit social housing complex for low-income seniors minutes away from Billings Bridge Shopping Centre. She has handed out nearly 1,400 bags of groceries to seniors since opening the pantry in September, 2021.

A resident of the building herself, Ms. Hamilton realized that many of her elderly neighbours struggled to afford food, particularly fresh and healthy options.

Residents line up waiting to be helped by Cathy Hamilton's food pantry.Spencer Colby/The Globe and Mail

A Statistics Canada report from February examining food insecurity during early days of the pandemic found that nearly one in 10 Canadians faced financial challenges in paying for food in the fall of 2020, including roughly 4 per cent of those 65 and older.

Ms. Hamilton approached several food banks asking for donations, but was told residents would need to pick up food in person. The closest food bank to Clementine Towers is a two-kilometre walk. Seniors with mobility challenges often face difficulties travelling to grocery stores or food banks, especially in the winter months, said resident Elanor Jaffey.

Also, Ms. Hamilton said, food bank donations often consist of canned goods, which some of the building’s residents aren’t able to use. “Some of them can’t even open a can and because they have a lot of health issues the canned stuff is not the ideal thing for them,” she said.

A volunteers ties a bag of frozen tomatoes for newly moved in resident Bentley Binks.Spencer Colby/The Globe and Mail

Many Clementine Tower residents are on fixed incomes and are struggling with rising prices for groceries. Halifax-based Dalhousie University, which publishes the annual Canada Food Price report in partnership with other Canadian universities, estimated that food prices will rise 5 to 7 per cent across the country this year.

“When it comes to buying food, for goodness sake you go to the store for milk and bread and spend 10 bucks. I remember when a quart of milk was 10 cents,” said Clementine Towers resident Christopher Marchant, who uses the pantry on a weekly basis. “I’ve never had to ask for food before.”

Cathy Hamilton, right, supports a plastic bag used for donating food items.Spencer Colby/The Globe and Mail

The pantry relies primarily on donations from friends, family and the community. Ms. Hamilton’s daughter-in-law has contacts with local farmers, giving the pantry access to fresh produce and eggs that would otherwise be wasted. “I am trying to get more help because I can only do so much,’’ Ms. Hamilton said. “I try my best to give them healthy foods.”

The day ends when Ms. Hamilton and her volunteers fold their tables, return remaining food items to the storage pantry and close the doors. “Whoever got this idea to do this especially for seniors, it was the best idea they ever came up with,” Ms. Jaffey said.

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