Food insecurity continues to grow in Hamilton’s Jewish community

April 2024
Cara Bensimon and Rachel Bernholtz

Hamilton Jewish Family Services

“All who are hungry, come and eat.” This is how we start the telling of the Passover story as we gather around the seder table. Yet, for many individuals and families in Hamilton and surrounding areas, this invitation isn’t just a symbolic gesture, but a lifeline provided by Hamilton Jewish Family Services (HJFS). From combating social isolation among seniors, aiding Holocaust survivors, poverty intervention, the kosher food bank, and promoting positive mental well-being, HJFS has been a steadfast support system for the community since 1929. 

However, as the need for our services continues to escalate, the importance of community support becomes increasingly evident.

There are a growing number of people who are relying on food banks to feed themselves and their family. According to a survey conducted by Hamilton Food Share in 2019, nearly half (46 per cent) of the households surveyed expressed that they would face homelessness if they did not receive assistance from the food banks. As of March 2023, 12,000 households visited a food bank each month, which is a 39 per cent increase over the previous year. While the 2024 statistics are not yet available, we know that this number will be significantly higher. It is now commonplace for Ontario Works and Housing administrators to provide food bank referrals. This tells us that financial aid alone is insufficient for many people. 

This reality is reflected here in the Hamilton Jewish community. HJFS has seen a 50 per cent increase in food bank clients from 2023 to 2024. It is important to recognize that the need for assistance goes well beyond the foodbank. Food security is a human right. Food insecurity is connected to housing insecurity, financial insecurity, and negative mental well-being. 

We have recently re-launched our mental health program, with a focus on awareness and preventative measures. This program promotes a holistic approach to maintaining a healthy mindset in everyday life, addressing both the universal and unique challenges faced by the Jewish community. We are fostering a culture of positive mental health and well-being within the community, ensuring that individuals have the tools and support they need to thrive mentally and emotionally.

HJFS currently supports 45 families by providing them with financial assistance, allowing them to stay in their homes. We support 17 Holocaust survivors to continue living independently and to receive their compensation through the Claims Conference. We provide referrals to other organizations in Hamilton for help with housing, Ontario Works, and legal representation. 

The people who come to us for assistance aren’t special. They aren’t financially irresponsible, homeless, or taking advantage. They are people in the Jewish community. They may be your shul-mates, the parents of your kids’ friends or your neighbour. Millions of people are only one paycheck away from significant economic hardship. 

Your support, whether through a generous donation, volunteering your time, connecting us with potential corporate sponsors, or lending your expertise on our board of directors or committees, is invaluable. HJFS provides a hand-up to those in need, how and when they need us most. However, we cannot do it alone. Reach out today at or call 905.627.9922. Let’s build a stronger, more compassionate tomorrow.