Central Food Network and other social service organizations are seeing an increased demand for services – and are rising to meet the need.

The Highlands East food bank announced Dec. 4 it was preparing to up its numbers for its annual Christmas hamper drive in response to an 11 per cent increase in food bank visits since March. Similarly, Heat Bank Haliburton County announced its plans to increase the value of the grants it provides to lower-income households by 25 per cent, from $400 to $500.

Central Food Network executive director, Tina Jackson, said the pressure of the pandemic and rising food costs are being felt. Social services have been preparing for months for higher demand come winter.

“It really underscores the need for things like a living wage, so that people that are working aren’t struggling … As well as for a guaranteed basic income,” Jackson said. “In the meantime, we will continue to be here for people who do fall through the cracks.”

Jackson said the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) flattened the curve of demand over the summer. That trend was similarly seen across the province according to Feed Ontario, though in its Nov. 30 Hunger Report, it said other factors such as new pop-up meal programs made an impact.

Regardless, Jackson said the demand started to increase again when CERB ended in October.

“We started to receive more calls,” she said. “For people now transitioned to EI (employment insurance), they’re getting less money per month.”

Still, food banks and service clubs are working to meet that demand.

“We don’t want to see anyone going hungry,” Highlands East Food Hub manager Ken Mott said. “Although our doors aren’t physically open the way they used to be, our hearts are and we want people to reach out if they need help.”

A surge in community generosity has helped, Jackson said. She highlighted a recent $6,400 donation from 100 Women Who Care and a Rhubarb Restaurant fundraiser providing more than $13,000, both to the Heat Bank.

“We are so grateful to help play a role in this very worthwhile project,” Rhubarb Restaurant owner Terri Matthews-Carl said.

“The number of people donating for us has been unprecedented,” Jackson said. “We are well prepared to weather at least the next six months and I’ve certainly heard that echoed with the other food banks within Haliburton County.”

Still, Jackson said she would like to see more pandemic support from the federal and provincial levels.

“If we think to the beginning of the food bank, we were supposed to be a Band-aid solution. It was supposed to be a short-term thing,” she said. “There’s obviously still a need for food banks, we still need to be here and people need to eat. And we need to have a social safety net.”

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