By Mike Anderson

Faced with soaring food costs and increasing demand, the Georgina Community Food Pantry is calling on York Region and the Town of Georgina to provide core funding to help it deal with the growing problem of food insecurity.

On November 1, the non-profit sent over 450 letters and 1,200 emails to past donors asking them to continue their financial support.

But, while Executive Director Cesar Caneo is hopeful that past donors will step up to the plate, he warns it may not be enough.

Caneo says that without government funding, the Food Pantry will have to dip into its reserve funds as food costs soar and demand increases.

“We are experiencing a crisis in our community; our budget is overrun,” Caneo said.

“We could cut the service; we could provide less food, but we have committed to maintaining the service to allow first-time users to come and register.”

“We invite the municipal and the regional government to talk with us. We need to access fresh resources to deal with unprecedented demand. We’re not talking about small numbers here.”

According to Caneo, food costs have surged more than $160,000 so far in 2023, representing an increase of $60,000 over the same period last year.

In September, the Food Pantry served 991 individuals, a 25 per cent increase from the previous year, while household visits totalled 372, up by 25 per cent.

The number of large families (5+) seeking assistance has also grown by 44 per cent.

But what is most alarming to Caneo is the increase in first-time clients.

According to Caneo, typically, only two out of five people facing food insecurity will access a local food bank, mainly because of the social stigma.

But, he says, that is no longer the case.

Due to the current housing crisis, food inflation and lack of steady employment, that stigma is fast disappearing.

“The increase in first-time users reflects that the crisis is striking deep into the community, forcing people who never would consider coming to the food bank, now having no other option,” he said.

“These numbers are not just statistics; they represent families, individuals, and children in our community grappling with the harsh realities of food insecurity.”

Caneo adds that while GCFP relies on donors for 100 per cent of its funding, this model is not workable going forward, especially as demographics change.

Caneo says while baby boomers have been traditionally supportive, a new generation of donors, those 40 or younger, are not as consistent.

“So it’s likely that donations in the years to come will decrease,” he said.

While the Region or the Town is not considering core funding, some temporary funding programs could help.

According to a Town spokesperson, the Food Pantry may be eligible for a new Non-Profit Organization Grant, which is non-repayable and provides $5,000 up to $100,000 per year.

Short-term funding from the Region was also provided to The Food Bank of York Region (FBYR) to help local food banks, like GCFP, source more fresh and frozen food.

However, FBYR CEO Alex Bilotta said that funding has now expired. He also confirmed that no direct regional funding is provided to local food banks like GCFP.

While Caneo says the Food Pantry is applying for Town and Regional grants, he would like a more permanent funding solution.

He also points out that other regions, like Waterloo Region, provide direct funding to local food banks.

“We need to plan for three to five years in the future. Because at the end of the day, the GCFP is an intermediary for the municipality and the Region to support those in need,” Caneo said.

“The municipality and the Region should look at supporting the local community food bank. The Region is putting money into shelters, employment services, counselling, and legal aid. Why is there no money for food, which is essential to address food insecurity.”