By Mike Anderson

Dave Harding, past president of the Pefferlaw Lions, has a message for other local service clubs. He’s challenging them to raise funds and food for the Georgina Community Food Pantry (GCFP) this holiday season.

Harding made the appeal after dropping off a $3,000 cheque from the Pefferlaw Lions on December 1.

“Our bingos and cornhole nights and different projects we do for the community are bringing in money that needs to go to a worthy cause,” Harding said.

“If the people in the other clubs can kick in, it’s a win-win for everybody.”

“These donations are very important,” said Cesar Caneo, GCFC’s executive director.

“Food is a basic necessity, and it’s essential to support those who are food insecure in our community, especially in these unprecedented times.”

According to Caneo, more than 850 households have been served in 2023, and 34 percent of those are new or first-time households who have never used a food bank before.

Caneo says the Food Pantry has set a goal of raising $150,000 this holiday season. As of December 1, halfway through the funding drive, it has raised $80,000.

“The remaining four weeks will be critical,” he said.

Harding, former councillor for Ward 5, would also like to see the Town step up with a donation.

“We used to take some money out of a discretionary fund, and any counsellor could donate. And that would come from the Town,” he said.

“I’m not sure what’s going on this year. It would be nice if there were an allotment of money put into the budget, and the Town could support it, whether it’s monthly, quarterly, or yearly,” he said.

“Past councils have done a great job of getting this up and running, and it would be nice to see some more support coming through.”

Caneo would also like to see stable municipal funding. He says it would make a significant difference, helping GCFP deal with the growing problem of food insecurity.

The Post asked Mayor Margaret Quirk if council would be donating to the Food Pantry this holiday season.

She said the Town has made a donation to help kick off the new Keswick Community Fridge, a partnership between the Town and GCFP, located at the Georgina Ice Place.

Mayor Quirk said the donation was earmarked initially as a Community Initiative Fund grant to a local restaurant to host a fundraising dinner for the Food Pantry.

However, that event was cancelled due to poor ticket sales.

Although Mayor Quirk did not disclose the grant amount, according to the Town’s website, the maximum Community Initiative Fund grant is $1,000.

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

However, while GCFP will apply, Caneo says short-term grant funding may not be enough to sustain GCFP going forward.

“We are asking for a conversation with our local government because we see the need in the community will continue,” he said.

“Our visits are increasing, including families who have never visited food banks. So it’s important as a community we continue to address this issue.”

Harding acknowledges the problem of food insecurity is not limited to Sutton and Keswick. He’s prepared to work with Caneo to help set up a food distribution hub in Pefferlaw, serving communities in Ward 5.

Harding promised to bring the idea forward at the Lions next meeting. He says a distribution hub, run by volunteers, could be located in the Pefferlaw Lions Community Hall.

According to Caneo, while most GCFP clients are from Keswick (57%) and Sutton/J.P. (31%), approximately 12 per cent are from other areas, including Pefferlaw and Udora.

Caneo says a food distribution hub in Pefferlaw would help service clients who must travel, in some cases more than 20km, to access the Food Pantry in Sutton.