Island’s food bank expects high demand, seeks cash and food

MINDEMOYA––Manitoulin Family Resources’ (MFR) annual Christmas campaign is underway––the fundraising effort aimed at pumping up supplies for the annual food hamper program.

Like many food banks across the North, the Manitoulin effort is volunteer-driven and largely dependant on the generosity of the local community to fund its efforts to provide nutritious food to a growing clientele of less fortunate.

“The food bank is very much a community-driven and directed effort,” said MFR co-executive director Andrea Smith. “It is the volunteers who are guiding us.”

Ontario overall has seen significant increases in demand for access to food banks. In fact, according to figures gathered by the Ontario Association of Food Banks, more people are seeking assistance from food banks than ever before. “In the month of March 2012 alone, no less than 412,998 individuals accessed food banks, including over 17,190 households that accessed food banks for the first time in their lives,” reads a report on the OAFB’s 2012 survey.

Those numbers are even more dramatic on Manitoulin.

“Over the past three years we have seen a growth in accessing the food bank of about 80 percent,” said MFR co-executive director Eleanor Charlton. “The numbers have risen over the last year by about 30 percent, which is a little bit less than the rise we saw last year.” The percentage increase this year may not be as dramatic as it was last year, but the numbers are still startling.

Despite a declared focus by the provincial government on eliminating child poverty, some 38.7 percent of those accessing food banks in Canada in 2012 were children, 11,737 more than in March of 2011.

It is a common misconception that the same people access the food bank and help centres on an ongoing basis, but over 10 percent of those accessing the services are consistently doing so for the very first time.

“People find themselves having to access the service temporarily to get over a rough patch in their lives,” noted Ms. Smith.

As might be anticipated, 42.8 percent of households accessing food banks are on social assistance and 27.3 percent are on disability support. Further, 44.6 percent of those accessing food bank services were women over 18 years of age, put that together with the percentage of children and you get a pretty strong picture of who is the main client group. Pensioners make up another significant portion of the client group.

Sadly, 19.2 percent of food banks ran out of nutritious food during the month.

Another concern which nags at those operating food banks, particularly in rural regions such as Manitoulin, is that there remains a significant number of people who are unable to access their services due to a lack of transportation.

“The lack of transportation in our area is a real concern,” said Ms. Charlton. “Between the lack of public transportation and the hours of operation for the food bank, how many people who are in desperate need can’t make it in?” This is especially of concern among the elderly and infirm.

The Manitoulin Help Centre food bank provides approximately 70 to 80 food hampers each month. “That is serving approximately 200 people,” said Ms. Charlton. “That breaks down to 101 adults and 92 children.”

The Christmas season sees a considerable bump in those numbers, as the Help Centre and its community partners seek out those in need with a hamper of food designed to help families and individuals celebrate the season.

“We are anticipating more than 400 Christmas hampers this year,” said Ms. Smith. “Actually, that is about what we had last year, we are anticipating more than that this year.”

The Manitoulin community is very generous each Christmas season with its donations of dry goods and non-perishable foods, noted Ms. Smith. “We really appreciate the community effort; every can helps.” But one of the most important donation streams are those that come in the form of cash.

Monetary donations help to even out the inevitable shortfalls in foods supplied, and allow for the purchase of perishable food such as a small Christmas turkey to be included in the hampers.

“It costs approximately $20,000 to operate the hamper program each year,” said Ms. Smith. “We get a fair bit of in-kind donations from local businesses that helps to meet those costs, but the cash donations we get make a very big difference.”

The food bank is also benefiting from its association with the Ontario Association of Food Banks this year, a recent development only finalized this fall. “We are getting donations from the Sudbury group as well,” said Ms. Smith.

In the meantime, the staff of The Manitoulin Expositor are once again issuing their challenge to the staff of other Little Current offices to fill a box (or two or three) with unwrapped toys and/or non-perishable food items. Drop the boxes off to The Expositor Office in Little Current (or call us to pick them up). Last year we delivered 45 boxes and 28 bags of food on your behalf. Please attach your business name to the bags and boxes so that the Help Centre can know who participated.

Together as a community, we can make a difference in people’s lives again this year.

Those very important cash donations to the hamper program or the building fund (mark which program the funds are directed to) can be dropped off to Manitoulin Family Resources or mailed to the MFR office at Manitoulin Family Resources, P.O. Box 181, Mindemoya, ON, P0P 1S0.

Michael Erskine