By Nick Bernard
This is the 10th year of SIRCH’s Gifts from the Heart, the annual fundraiser that helps fund SIRCH’s efforts to address gaps in social and health services in Haliburton County. Since March of 2020, over 35,000 portions of home cooked food have been provided for free to people in need.
SIRCH executive director Gena Robertson says the focus of Gifts from the Heart is on the continued funding of SIRCH’s community kitchen, which prepares the food that goes to various organizations in the community.
“It’s really about providing f ood security to individuals in the community who … really need to have prepared, nutritious food,” Robertson explained.
“We have a number of organizations that distribute, because they know their clients,” she says, listing off the organizations SIRCH works with, including the Haliburton Highlands Health Services’ Meals on Wheels, the Haliburton Youth Hub, and FoodNet.
She says SIRCH’s partnerships with organizations like FoodNet have allowed them to place freezers around the county, which makes home cooked meals from SIRCH’s kitchen accessible to those in the county who are struggling. The organizations collect the meals from SIRCH, and then distribute them at their locations.
Robertson says about a dozen such freezers are located throughout the county, enabling their work to continue beyond just the town of Haliburton.
She says the need to focus on food stems from the rise in need during the pandemic.
“I think the need skyrocketed, you know, people who were laid off, and isolated, and closed down,” she said. While she says the need tapered off a little during the summer, it has since returned as strong as ever. Robertson also attributes the ongoing and increasing vulnerability of people in the community to the rise of food prices and a lack of local transportation.
She also says it’s important to get food to people whose general life circumstances prevent them from accessing food.
“You know, if you’re depressed, if you’re grieving, if you’re palliative, you probably don’t want to make food even if you can afford to do it,” she said. “So, there’s lots of reasons that people would just appreciate a meal.”
She says the meals are made by volunteers under the direction of chef Sarah Hall, using only nutritious food.
“It’s sort of our gift to the community,” Robertson said in characterizing the work SIRCH is doing.
She said providing food to people in need must be done with dignity, which is why the food is given to organizations like the Youth Hub, the YWCA, the City of Kawartha Lakes Housing, and others.
“I don’t want someone to come in and feel in any way that they’re not equal,” she said. “If you need food, you get it there, where people know you and know that you have that concern.”
Robertson says that SIRCH wouldn’t be able to complete its work without the support of the community.
“We’re just incredibly appreciative because we would not be able to accomplish what we do without the very generous donations of people who support us,” she said. “We have a really giving community … people volunteer here, people help out here, it’s a pretty impressive community.”
Gifts from the Heart runs from now until Christmas.
People are encouraged to donate to Gifts from the Heart in person, by mail, or online at sirch.on.ca/donate.
Visit any one of SIRCH’s Social Enterprises to support their work year-round.