Carlington Food Bank warns of underfunding amid growing demand

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An organization that feeds people living in poverty in Ottawa’s west end says it may have to cut hours or programs due to a dramatic increase in the number of people relying on its services.

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The Caldwell Family Center operates a food bank and meal program, as well as employment supports and clothing support.

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But the centre’s executive director, Marilyn Matheson, said demand for hot meals and food baskets had skyrocketed due to rising inflation and high rents – and funding for the organization had failed. not keeping pace.

« It’s really a crisis situation, » Matheson said in an interview on Saturday. “It’s not just one thing that’s driving demand: it’s a combination of food inflation and people struggling to manage their rents. So they try to pay their rent by supplementing their food supply here.

The number of people using the centre’s services has increased by 55% over last year, she said, and new records are being set every week. Last week, Caldwell provided 468 boxes of groceries and helped 148 people in one day.

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The center is also serving almost twice as many meals as last year — 500 to 600 hot meals a day — and every week about 10 new families seek help.

Matheson said the center needs $117,000 in additional funding to keep programs running at their current level for the rest of the year and to keep food bank shelves stocked. Without a new source of funding, she said, the center may be forced to temporarily cut services.

“It means the people we help keep at home are at risk of losing their homes,” Matheson warned.

The Caldwell Family Center receives core funding from the City of Ottawa. In 2018, this represented 43% of the centre’s budget, but this year it is only 28%. The rest of the center’s funding comes from private and corporate donations, foundations and fundraisers.

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Last year, Caldwell also received $288,000 from the city’s COVID-19 emergency relief fund, but that amount has dropped to $170,000 this year. This funding runs out at the end of September.

Matheson said the organization is working hard to raise funds to cover the shortfall and will hold a major fundraising event, Harvest of Hope, on October 5 at Strathmere Farm.

“We need funding now. We spoke to the city and they said there was no additional emergency funding available,” she said. « A lot of agencies are struggling. »

Opened in 1986, the Caldwell Family Center is a not-for-profit corporation. It is the only food bank option for many people in and around Carlington.

The center was created thanks to the work of a Catholic nun, Sister Thelma Marion, and three members of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart. They moved to the Carlington neighborhood in the early 1980s and began helping needy families from outside their homes.

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Eventually, new space was found in a nearby Ottawa community housing complex, and the Caldwell Family Center was officially launched in 1986, serving an influx of immigrants and refugees from Vietnam and Cambodia.

The center continues to serve new Canadians, some of whom live in an emergency shelter on Carling Avenue. The center offers an on-site food bank at the shelter once a week.

Matheson said the center has also helped five local families keep their homes this year by defending them before the Landlords and Tenants Commission. « We see people living in their cars because they lost their homes, » she said.

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