By: Mike Anderson
After nearly eight years of running the Georgina Community Food Pantry, Executive Director Catherine Cook is retiring on December 4.
Her successor is Cesar Caneo, who brings over 25 years of experience in the not-for-profit sector. He was recently the Director of Operations for the Nourish and Develop Foundation based in Cannington, Ontario.
Ms. Cook leaves big shoes to fill. Since joining the Pantry in April 2013, she has worked tirelessly to improve the nutritional value of food provided to clients; introducing the Healthy Food Policy, which guides the Pantry’s food purchasing practices, and establishing the Nourishing Possibilities Program, which included a community garden and kitchen — during her tenure, the amount of fresh food in a client’s hamper doubled, from 20 to 40 per cent.
Ms. Cook also expanded the Pantry’s Community Connections Desk, connecting clients to over 16 different organizations to help them with finances, nutrition, housing and addiction services.
Ms. Cook developed cooperative partnerships with other not-for-profits, like CHATS and Routes Connecting Communities, so volunteer drivers could deliver food to homebound seniors and clients who lack transportation access.
She also partnered with Routes and Jericho Youth Services to establish A Closer Look, a unique community development initiative funded by the United Way of Greater Toronto, which explores the needs of Georgina’s low-income residents.
While directing the Pantry’s day-to-day operations, Ms. Cook led a fundraising committee that raised more than $200,000 through unique events, including Run for the Pantry, Pose for the Pantry (Yoga sessions) and a Halloween Pumpkin Party.
On November 12, Ms. Cook accepted a donation of $2000 from the Retired Teachers of Ontario (RTOERO – York Region, District 34) presented by Dave Szollosy, former Ward 3 Councillor and high-school teacher.
While appreciative of the RTOERO’s generous donation, the Pantry’s outgoing director is calling on the community for more support.
“During the pandemic, people are not donating food nearly as much as they used to. And since they’re not donating food, we really appreciate financial donations. So, thank you very much to the retired teachers for coming through for us,” Ms. Cook said.
“We’re getting to the point now where we’re increasing the amount of money that we spend each week on food. And we really don’t know what’s going to happen in the next few months, as more people will need our help.
If we don’t get enough food donations, enough financial support, it’s going to be an unknown for us. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get through. The community and Georgina are so generous. So we’re really hoping that everything will work out for us.”
To donate to the Georgina Community Food Pantry, visit www.georginafoodpantry.com/donate.