SIRCH is researching to get a better understanding of food insecurity in Haliburton as demand for its free meals remains high.

The community service organization announced the initiative July 29. It is surveying people facing food insecurity to find out more about their experiences. SIRCH said the effort was prompted by the demand remaining high enough for 500 meals per week, well beyond the 70 a week it was cooking before COVID-19 hit.

Project co-ordinator Emma Wood said they are connecting with food banks and other organizations to learn more about how COVID has impacted people’s ability to purchase nutritious food.

“We hope to get a better picture of who is receiving our meals, who we could be missing and the overall picture of food insecurity in Haliburton,” Wood said. “And if COVID has had any impact.”

The organization originally upped its meal production to respond to the crisis, as the pandemic slowed down business, leading to layoffs. SIRCH executive director Gena Robertson said they expected demand to drop once the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and other supports kicked in. But the decline never happened.

“We thought we had our hand on the pulse of the community when it came to food and needing food,” Robertson said. “Conversations and stories made us realize that for many, the needs had been there all along, but they just hadn’t been aware of the meals. We wanted to dig a bit deeper.”

The Central Food Network in Highlands East has previously said it is bracing itself for a possible spike in demand come winter, with rising food prices and people struggling with depleted savings and summer employment decline.

Wood said SIRCH hopes to use the data collected to prepare for the fall.

“We can get a better idea on what the current need is, and is that need expected to go up, so that way we can secure funding and prepare our team to weather that,” she said. “We just want to make sure come the colder months, we’re ready to go.”

The confidential survey is available through sirch.on.ca under the COVID-19 tab, by emailing emma_wood@sirch.on.ca or by calling 705-457-1742 from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday.

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