Council voted last week to carry over community grants funding from 2017 to support the Food to Share program.
Council approved the carry over of the $1,838 in in-kind support from the 2017 community grants program after hearing from Food to Share founder Glen Wallis.
Wallis made the request at council’s March 13 meeting where he told councillors the group food insecurity is a pervasive issue locally. The county has one of the highest food insecurity rates in Ontario at 12 per cent.
“That means that there are 2,500 people in our county alone who do not have access to good healthy food,” Wallis said.
He said in 2017 Food to Share, which cooks healthy meals which are then distributed to local food banks, received an in-kind grant for the use of municipal kitchens in Picton and Wellington. However, the group didn’t use up all of the funds in 2017 and later realized the grant expired at the end of December.
Since Food to Share’s inception three years ago, volunteers have prepared over 8,000 meals. More than 50,000 pounds of produce has been donated to the cause by local farms.
Wallis said volunteers had used the kitchens throughout February and March this year. The kitchens are used for 10 hours on Tuesdays where volunteers cook meals as well as host cooking classes for both youth and adults. He asked that the money from the 2017 grants be extended to cover this year’s costs with a cutoff date of June 1.
Additionally, Wallis said the municipality could be doing more to help fight food insecurity and asked councillors to consider additional measures to support programs like Food to Share.
“As a municipality, I think we can go much further than having the in-kind grants to fight food insecurity,” said Wallis.
Under the municipal fees and charges bylaw, rental of the kitchens costs $35 per hour. Each session costs Food to Share $350.
“It would be excellent if we could use those kitchens to produce food for the food banks,” he said. “The cost, I would say, is almost insignificant.”
He asked council to investigate allowing groups like Food to Share to use the facilities at a reduced cost.
“Groups like Food to Share, and others who fight food insecurity, would be willing to pay for any hard costs like gas and electricity, but the fact is the arenas themselves are open, the staff are there,” he said.
He said ideally the group could spend one day per week in Wellington and one day per week in Picton. He said if a paying customer wanted to rent the facility, Food to Share would cancel their event.
“We’re looking for an underutilized asset to be used to fight a problem that is significant in our community,” he said.
Councillor Lenny Epstein was among those who supported carrying forward the grant dollars. He said he would also like to investigate a program that would allow not-for-profit groups like Food to Share to use the kitchens.
“This is one of the biggest issues that we are facing in our community,” he said. “…If somebody is going to be able to make use of the kitchens to help address food insecurity and they’re sitting empty, where’s the problem?”
Chief administrative officer James Hepburn advised that this sort of request is why the County set up the community grants process. He suggested staff could investigate the fees and charges during the next round of budget deliberations, but reiterated the request would best come in the form of a grant application.
No motion to investigate such a program was put forward.