By Mike Anderson

The Georgina Community Food Pantry (GCFP) launched its annual spring fundraising drive on April 2, sending over 1,100 emails and nearly 500 letters to potential donors.

The Food Pantry hopes to raise $50,000. However, it will have to hit that target without help from the Town of Georgina, which won’t be matching donations this time around.

Last year, the Town matched donations, dollar for dollar, up to $25,000.

According to GCFP Executive Director Cesar Caneo, the Food Pantry decided not to ask the Town to repeat its pledge, as the Town is considering a plan to provide stable funding for the food bank.

On March 5, at a special council meeting on housing and homelessness, council asked staff to bring forward a business case for $25,000 in dedicated funding for the food bank. That business case will be part of the 2025 budget deliberation process, which will occur later in the year.

“We didn’t ask for the $25,000 because we’re hoping to have something more permanent. So we didn’t want to be seen as taking advantage of the situation,” Caneo said.

Still, Caneo hopes the community will bridge the gap and help the Food Pantry meet its goal this spring.

He points out that the need for emergency food supplies continues to grow. In 2023, 6,579 households accessed the food bank, an 85 per cent increase over 2022.

Also disturbing is the increase in first-time users, with 823 new people (324 families) using the food bank for the first time in 2023. That’s a 46% increase over the previous year.

According to Caneo, the food bank distributed $760,735 worth of food last year; while 70 percent was donated, financial contributions paid for the other 30 percent.

He adds the first few months of 2024, which traditionally see a drop in demand, have shown the surge is not diminishing, with 15 per cent more families accessing emergency food supplies during the winter months.

“It’s a compounding problem: high food prices, high rent, high interest, and higher mortgage payments, ” he said.

Caneo says the increased demand for food at the Food Pantry is also occurring at the Keswick Community Fridge, which opened at the Georgina Ice Palace in January.

“We have seen expanding traffic at the community fridge. Supplies are flying off the shelves. In 24 to 36 hours, they are gone. So we are stacking almost daily,” he said.

Caneo says, at a minimum, it will cost $15,000 to stock the fridge this year.

“It wasn’t considered last year in our budget because the expectation was that this would be run by volunteers and supported by the community. But the need has been so overwhelming that we had to allocate $15,000 just as base funding,” he said.

Caneo says the fridge was initially intended to provide a quick meal or snack, but has developed into a mini food bank.

“We are buying a considerable amount of supplies, like yogurt, cheese strings, cereals, and other things. But we are also putting in dry supplies like groceries because people are expecting and demanding that,” he said.

Caneo believes a long-term solution may be another food bank located in Keswick, as 59 percent of the Food Pantry’s clients live in Keswick, while 30 percent reside in Sutton and Jackson’s Point.

But Caneo cautions that it would have to be a collaboration with another agency, as the Food Pantry can not sustain two operations with its current budget.

Another initiative the Food Pantry is funding this year is the distribution of food bags to people experiencing homelessness. Similar to the breakfast club bags, these bags contain food items that don’t require cooking.

“We’re working with outreach workers from York Region to visit homeless encampments and people living in the rough or their cars. And we’re putting together a supply of items, like cereal bars, fresh fruits, and cans that don’t require a can opener, so they can eat without the need to cook,” he said.

Caneo estimates the cost of each food bag to be about $30. However, he doesn’t know how many will be needed because it’s hard to determine how many people are experiencing homelessness in Georgina.

“York Region says there are about 15 encampments in Georgina, with between one to four people. Worst case scenario, we are looking at 45 to 50 people,” he said,

“We are going to try to support those people who are more marginalized. They usually don’t come to a food bank because you need address confirmation where you are living. A lot of homeless people don’t even have ID. So, they don’t traditionally access services that could help them.”

While these new initiatives will require additional funding, Caneo is hopeful that residents will rise to the occasion and continue to support the Food Pantry and its work.

“The community fridge is stocked daily or every two days, and we’re providing food supplies for people living rough or in encampments,” Caneo said.

“We are continuing to respond to the community’s needs. We are asking residents who can afford it to join us to help us meet those needs.”

“I’ve been here three years, and the need for food continues to grow. It’s likely the projection for 2024 will be as high as 2023 or even higher. So, we are facing an upward trend in terms of people’s needs: More people are coming more often.”

To donate to the Georgina Community Food Pantry, visit