By Michelle Poirier
With food costs on the rise, The Georgina Community Food Pantry is experiencing unprecedented demand this holiday season.
As of November, the Food Pantry had a 34 per cent increase in the number of clients served, with a 75 to 80 per cent increase in new families coming for the first time, compared to last year.
Executive Director Cesar Caneo says they have never seen the number of new families this high, as the increase usually averages around 10 to 12 per cent each year.
Another concerning trend, according to Caneo, is that close to 10 per cent of the Food Pantry’s clients own their homes and pay mortgages.
With rising mortgage interest, increased rents, and the shortage of affordable housing, Caneo says more people have to choose between paying bills or putting food on the table.
This year the Food Pantry also took over the Pop-Up Breakfast Club, started by community members during the pandemic to provide breakfast foods to children in need.
Caneo says this is a significant effort for the Food Pantry and accounts for one-third of all their food costs.
Families with children up to seventeen years old receive the breakfast hampers, which include granola bars, milk, eggs and other healthy foods, along with their regular food hamper.
The Food Pantry provided 141 breakfast hampers in November.
But Caneo expects that number will rise by the end of December, as it currently supports around 215 families with kids.
Facing higher food costs and increased demand, Caneo says the Food Pantry needs more support this coming year.
“We are facing a tough time during 2023, and we invite the community to be aware of that and to support us, especially in the winter months that are going to be cold and dark,” he said.
Caneo adds the Food Pantry does not receive core funding or financial support from any level of government, relying entirely on donations to keep the doors open.
“It’s all up to the community and the volunteers,” he said.
“Volunteers run at least 85 per cent of the operation you see today. We have only one-and-a-half paid staff here. So, people have to understand that all the money and donations that come into the Pantry go directly to support the individuals in need.”
“The donations are essential and are crucial to sustaining the operation.”
The Food Pantry set a year-end goal of raising $100,000, and, so far, they’ve raised close to $70,000 from local businesses and fundraising campaigns.
The Belvedere Cookhouse Community Christmas Raffle, hosted by The Belvedere Cookhouse Restaurant, Hutchings Farm and The Clean Queen, recently donated $10,260.
While donations fluctuate over the year and pick up during the holiday season, Caneo hopes people will keep donating to the Food Pantry in January, February and March because many people need help the most during these months.
“Think about the long winter that we have ahead and how we can support those in need the most,” he said.
For more information about the Food Pantry, call (905) 596-0557. To donate, visit www.georginafoodpantry.com.
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