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COLUMN: Food insecurity doesn't take spring break

Soaring food, fuel costs lead to increasing demand at Sharing Place, which saw 93 first-time visitors in March
2019-10-02 Sharing Place Orillia 3
Chris Peacock is executive director of the Sharing Place Food Centre. Nathan Taylor/OrilliaMatters file photo

We’ll get back to our regularly scheduled programming featuring local restaurants later. For now, there’s something more pressing to discuss.

“I sound like a broken record,” said Chris Peacock, executive director of the Sharing Place Food Centre.

It’s true. He did. Almost every time we talk about the needs of the organization and its members, his message is, sadly, predictable.

The number of people using the Sharing Place’s services is on the rise. So are the costs of food, fuel and housing, while wage levels aren’t keeping pace.

“We’re dealing with an increased number of individuals who are accessing our services every month,” Peacock said.

The exceptions, barely, were January and February, when the numbers “plateaued by two people.”

In March, 1,304 individuals received assistance from the Sharing Place. Ninety-three of them were first-time visitors.

One notable observation from Peacock is an increase in the number of dual-income families needing the organization’s help.

“They’re apologetic. They feel guilty, weird and uncomfortable. They have never accessed a food bank before,” he said. “People are choosing between feeding themselves or their kids.”

That is not an ultimatum anyone should be faced with, which is why Peacock encourages people to take advantage of the assistance that is available.

In fact, he’d like to see even more people showing up at the Dufferin Street facility. It seems odd to say that, but he has a point.

About 75 per cent of those who are food insecure do not access food banks. Peacock blames the stigma associated with it. That stigma can be a strong deterrent, which is why the Sharing Place has been continually transforming itself.

The organization’s former location on West Street was, save for the passionate volunteers, not a welcoming environment. It was dark and dingy, making it difficult to foster a dignifying experience for visitors.

Those days are gone. Peacock has put them behind him — literally. He has a photo of the old spot on the wall behind him in his office to remind him of how things used to be and how far they have come.

The current site of the Sharing Place opened in 2019, and efforts were made to ensure it would be more welcoming, and more than just a food bank.

The food centre offers programming and outreach in addition to providing food to visitors. It will evolve into an even broader operation when the community kitchen opens.

In the meantime, the most important focus is on assisting those who need it most, and the Sharing Place can’t do it alone. It needs our help to allow it to continue helping others.

The Sharing Place, like its members, isn’t immune to the effects of soaring costs. It uses monetary donations from the community to purchase food. As we know, food is expensive these days. The organization has trucks on the road every day, making deliveries and picking up items as part of its food recovery program. Fuel costs are higher than ever.

In the latest issue of The Feed, the Sharing Place’s newsletter, Peacock appealed for help — now.

“For most people, supporting the Sharing Place Food Centre isn’t at the forefront of people’s minds in summer months. People usually consider organizing a donation drive or donating during the holiday season, a time of giving and sharing,” he wrote. “In fact, we receive 50 per cent of our annual donations between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve.”

The need among those who are food insecure, however, is great during this time of the year and in the summer.

The community can help by donating money. One of the best ways to do so is by becoming a monthly donor. It can be conveniently set up on the Sharing Place website.

Food drives are also encouraged and can be held any time of the year. Why not organize one now?

This is the second time the Sharing Place has been featured here since this local food and drink column was launched. It won’t be the last.

The issue of food insecurity isn’t going away no matter how much it might be ignored. Let’s not ignore it. Let the broken record play.

Nathan Taylor’s local food and drink column appears every other Saturday.