Volunteer recruitment has become a priority at the Central Food Network.

The network is the result of the amalgamation of the Cardiff Community Food Bank and the Highlands East Food Hub. A contingent of about 70 staff and volunteers keep the organization ticking.

But, as Dysart township council heard when it met July 25, more help is needed.

Nancy Wright-Laking, chairperson of the network’s board, and Tina Jackson, executive director, provided council with an overview of the network.

The CFN does more than address food insecurity in eastern Dysart and Highlands East, which comprises the eastern reaches of Haliburton County. The network also focuses on alleviating the impact of energy poverty throughout Haliburton County as a whole.

“All these staff and volunteers work very long hours to address food and heat insecurity,” Wright-Laking said. “As many other charities are finding, more volunteers are needed.”

The network’s Heat Bank services aims to support county households that are experiencing a heat- or hydro-related crisis. Families can avail of furnace fuel grants and firewood for heating emergencies, assistance to apply for grants for relief, assistance filing taxes, and help with the various programs.

As many as 216 calls for assistance were fielded at the heat bank last year and 156 households were helped. As many as 53 loads of fire wood was dispersed.

Jackson said the network offers a sliding scale toward providing help depending on the crisis level and the individual household’s specific needs.

“These are clearly challenging times for people in our community, from young to old alike,” Jackson said.

Jackson said giving a household $500 worth of propane or furnace oil would last only about a few weeks.

“We really want to try to make sure that they have some additional supports to better withstand the increased costs and weather through living in poverty,” Jackson said.

Those supports are found by way of referrals to other service providers. Benefit screening is done to gauge income and circumstances to better identify other resources that will either increase their income or reduce their costs.

The CFN has offered free income tax filing for lower income households that have a simple tax return. It’s a program offered by Revenue Canada and hosted locally by the network.

Last year, the CFN helped people file 58 income tax returns.

On the food services side, the CFN offers one-time emergency food assistance and regular food hampers. They helped 208 households access food and fed 194 people monthly. They did 180 food deliveries and prepared 4,441 meals.

In Highlands East, the low-income rate is at about 13 per cent, said Jackson.

“We know that those are folks struggling every single month to put food on the table,” she said.

For many of those people, the only food going into their households is food provided by the network.

“They just literally are working with deficit budgets,” she said. “They have no extra money.”

Wright-Laking said nobody believes there will be stability in the months to come. The network is stretching every dollar, every square foot of floor space. Finding revenue streams is a continuous chore.

Likewise, more volunteers are needed to ensure a succession plan to continue a steady service stream amidst turnover in the volunteer ranks.

“One of our largest areas of need is for new board members,” Wright-Laking said.

She asked councillors to spread the word of that need among their contacts and friends.

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By James Matthews, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Aug 04, 2023 at 08:25

This item reprinted with permission from   Minden Times   Minden, Ontario

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