By Hilary Thomson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter - February 18, 2021
Merrickville-Wolford Council made a significant donation to the Merrickville Emergency Food Cupboard last week to help those struggling with food insecurity in the community. The $4,500 donation to the Food Cupboard came out of last year’s Community Grants line item, much of which was not distributed due to COVID-19. It was Deputy Mayor Michael Cameron who first brought the idea of using the excess funds to support the Food Cupboard to council at the end of last year. “I would like to put forward a motion that we donate the grant money,” the Deputy Mayor suggested at the December 14 meeting. “Maybe not all the money, but a good portion of it would go a long way for some people in our community.”
All of council seemed to agree that it was a good idea, although both Councillor Timothy Molloy and Councillor Bob Foster suggested they wait until the new year, so they could get a report on the financials from staff. “The needs of the Food Cupboard will go well into next year,” Councillor Foster said.
The idea was brought back to council at the meeting of February 8, when staff confirmed that there was $11,000 left in the Community Grants budget from last year. While Deputy Mayor Michael Cameron suggested they donate the entire sum to the Food Cupboard, Councillor Foster was hesitant to commit that much taxpayer money to one cause. Council doesn’t look favourably on community groups who receive municipal funding having flow through financing to other organizations, and he felt that this was a bit of a contravention of that policy. “What we are doing is, we are donating taxpayer’s dollars to this, and we really have to be careful there,” Councillor Foster said.
That being said, he did admit that this is an extraordinary year and, after speaking with Food Cupboard administrator Joanne McIntyre, the need was clear. He suggested that council donate $4500 to cover about three months of the food vouchers for the Merrickville Food Market that are given out to Food Cupboard clients to buy perishable items like milk and eggs.
“The money is spent in the community, so there are a lot of pluses involved. That would allow us to still put some of the money back into a reserve, which we have to be mindful of.”
Mayor Struthers agreed that the municipality giving away tax dollars is uncharted territory. However, with the drop in donations over the Christmas period due to the cancellation of the CP Holiday train, the need is there. Joanne confirmed that, while they were blown away by the support of the community over the Christmas season with their reverse advent calendar, they still received less than half of the donations they usually would have expected with the arrival of the Holiday train in Merrickville. “People really responded well to it, and engaged in the idea of it, and came through with 650 pounds of food. However, it’s not our couple thousand pounds of food we would normally get.”
Joanne has definitely seen an increase in the number of people using the Food Cupboard due to COVID-19. Although she says the increase is hard to measure, she believes that the need has increased by 30- 40%, which is consistent with other food banks in the area. “The anticipation is that the numbers are only going to increase.”
She is thrilled with the donation from the municipality, as it will allow them to provide fresh food to their clients. “Just to give people more of a balance. They’ll get protein and dairy, along with the non-perishable stuff.”
Rideau Community Health Services (RCHS) CEO, Michele Bellows, also said this donation from the municipality is extremely welcome, especially with the impact the pandemic has had on local residents. “Given the impact of COVID-19 on our communities, and the increased need, honestly, this will enable us to continue providing some of the fresh foods and fresh vegetables that we’d started , and we’d enhanced,” she says. “We’ll be able to continue that, and continue to support the community in a meaningful way.”
The Merrickville-Wolford community is already very supportive of the Food Cupboard, with lots of local businesses and residents showing their support in different ways. Nana B’s Bakery donates their leftover bread regularly. Main Street Family Restaurant teamed up with them to give away take-out meals to those in need; and Healthily Ever After has been serving as a drop-off point for the Food Cupboard when the RCHS building is not open. “I can’t say enough how grateful, not just me, but the people who use the services are, that this is coming from the community,” Joanne says.
Council hopes that this one-time donation from the municipality will not only help support residents in need, but also encourage the community to continue to show their support for the cause. The Food Cupboard is always looking for monetary donations, or non-perishable food items like tuna, cereal, diced tomatoes, peanut butter, stews, and pea soups. They would also really appreciate hygiene products such as shampoo, conditioner, and toilet paper. Donations can be dropped off at the RCHS building in Merrickville, where there is a cart for food donations at the front door. You can also contact Joanne directly at 613-283-1952 ext. 136.