Food Share volunteers working harder to meet growing demand
BY SCOTT STEPHENSON
Every Wednesday between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., an otherwise quiet and unassuming storage facility in downtown Wingham comes to life. Inside are volunteers working tirelessly to support their community by providing necessary and nutritious provisions to friends and neighbours who are struggling due to rapidly increasing cost-of-living expenses and a confluence of systemic failures to provide local, affordable housing options and adequate financial support for those who cannot work.
The North Huron Community Food Share, a non-profit organization based in Wingham, has been dedicated to providing support and assistance to low-income families since its establishment in 1995. It is staffed by volunteers and relies on donations from the community to keep its shelves stocked. The organization estimates that each month requires a combined total of between 400 and 500 volunteer hours, and there is always a need for more help and support, particularly on Mondays when heavy lifting is required to stock shelves.
The activity inside the space on any given Wednesday morning is reminiscent of a beehive - seamless teamwork, purposeful service and an obvious sense of community building. The energetic co-ordination between volunteers to rapidly assemble and pack up food items to serve the public, noting any dietary restrictions and evolving taste preferences of sometimes fickle youngsters, is the type of thing you might see in a restaurant known for its exceptional service.
Over the years, the organization has grown and expanded its services to encompass a wide area surrounding Wingham, including Brussels, Blyth, Lucknow, Teeswater, Fordwich, Gorrie, Wroxeter, Bluevale and Belgrave. Despite the massive service area, the North Huron Community Food Share remains steadfast in its mission to alleviate hunger and suffering in the community. However, with high food prices and inflation affecting the cost of almost everything, the organization faces a challenging road ahead.
“The increase in food prices means people who are on fixed incomes are forced to choose between heating costs, rent costs and clothing costs. Guess what? At the end of the month, there isn’t enough left over to feed everybody. Inflation costs have driven up the number of people we have to serve,” said treasurer and volunteer Al Skelton. This year, the organization expects to provide for more than 2,500 families or around 5,000 individuals, a steep increase over last year. Skelton says the numbers have been rising dramatically since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and there is no relief in sight.
To address this issue, the North Huron Community Food Share is holding a "Stuff the Bus" spring food drive on April 1, in collaboration with Wingham-based Montgomery Bus Lines and local grocery stores. Shoppers can purchase pre-packed bags of groceries that will be collected by volunteers stationed at Montgomery buses at each participating store.
In addition to food donations, the North Huron Community Food Share also welcomes financial contributions and gift cards to help purchase non-food items such as laundry detergent. Cheques and gift cards can be mailed to North Huron Community Food Share, P.O. Box 354, Wingham, Ontario, N0G 2W0. To offset the rising cost of food, the organization has been forced to reduce spending on toiletries. To help meet increasing needs, the Wingham Ironmen and Mid-Huron Huskies U18LL teams collected hygiene products at their game on March 4 for donation.
With the support of the local community, the North Huron Community Food Share is determined to continue its fight against hunger and provide assistance to those in need.