/SIRCH seeks to assist with area’s food insecurity 

SIRCH seeks to assist with area’s food insecurity 

By Darren Lum

A new SIRCH Community Services research effort is hoping to gain a greater understanding of the community’s need for food.
According to SIRCH, before COVID-19 13.5 per cent of households in the
Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit’s jurisdiction
experienced food insecurity.  That number is expected to rise because
of the effects of the pandemic and SIRCH is conducting a survey it hopes will shed light on the food-related impacts of the pandemic for local residents and help to resolve food insecurity.
“We thought we had our hand on the pulse of the community when it came to food and needing food,” SIRCH executive director Gena Roberston said in a press release. “Requests for our free meals had been steady at about 70 a week prior to COVID19. With the pandemic, the need increased to over 500 a week! Jay [McIvor] and his team were cooking five days a week just to keep up with demand. When CERB [Canadian Emergency Response Benefit]
came out and people started getting back to work, we expected demand to
drop – but it didn’t. 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. So we wanted to dig a bit deeper.”
Emma Wood, who joined SIRCH this past summer because of a grant, is conducting the survey and is welcoming input from local organizations and residents. “We are connecting with local food banks, community  organizations, and residents to collect information and experiences on the impact of the pandemic as it relates to their ability to purchase nutritious food,” Wood said. “We’re also asking some additional questions to try to gather information that might be helpful in creating solutions to food
insecurity in our county. Already we have made valuable and meaningful
connections in the community, and the research being done will have a
greater impact on Haliburton County,” she said in a press release. Wood has Bachelor of Arts in international development studies, and is in the certificate program at The Chang School of Continuing Education at
Ryerson University. Online surveys are available to the public. Surveys are confidential, and names and identifying information will not be given out.
SIRCH provides three ways to complete the survey. One, online at their website (www.sirch.on.ca) by clicking the tab “COVID-19” and then click on the survey link. Two, phone Emma Wood from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday to Friday at (705) 457-1742. Three, email emma_wood@sirch.on.ca and a link will be emailed to complete the survey online. Wood has reached out to local organizations such as food banks and community kitchens for  feedback.
In Minden, the community kitchen manager Marilynne Lesperance had consulted with the Minden Food Bank manager Joanne Barnes and said CERB has greatly affected who they have seen come to them for help the past few months during the pandemic. “Our experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic have been completely different then what we are accustomed to any other time in our history. It would not be right at this time to provide all the information that is asked for because the numbers would be skewed because of the situation we are in,” she said in a prepared
statement. “We are giving out much more food right now but we are seeing
people that are disadvantaged by COVID-19, not all of our regular clientele. CERB has had a huge impact on our day to day operation because many people have qualified for this government benefit and do not have to come to the food bank.”
Lesperance said a more accurate picture will be available later in the year when CERB ends and the summer is over. “We believe there is going to be greater need at that time because we always see more people when the kids go back to school, when the golf courses close and the resorts and camps are empty. When you take into account the amount of small businesses that aren’t going to make it we expect to see even more people at that time and we are currently buying food in preparation for this influx,” she wrote.
She expects a higher demand at the food bank because of the return of regular clients and a continuation of the recently acquired clients.
She appreciated the sentiment behind this effort, but wasn’t ready to give information that may not provide an accurate portrayal of what’s happening. “We do want our community to know about food insecurity in our community but to quote our service numbers at this time would be incorrect going forward,” she wrote.
Tina Jackson of the Central Food Network said Wood has had discussions with both of the food bank managers in Wilberforce and Cardiff regarding what they are seeing first-hand at the food banks. “Certainly, efforts to shed light on local food insecurity issues are welcomed, particularly if the information can be used by the community to help better understand and document both the impact of the pandemic and the subsequent responses. It is our position that any such research or evaluation project be developed in partnership or at least in collaboration with the Haliburton County Food Net committee of which we are a part. That committee, made up of local agencies, works to coordinate efforts related to food security and collectively address any gaps in service,” she wrote in an email.