Kingston: Charities warn of increased demand for free meal programs

As the price of fruits and vegetables continues to rise, community organizations in Kingston that offer free lunch programs say they are seeing hundreds more people needing their services.

Judy Fyfe is executive director of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul; she says the group sees new faces all the time.

“Alarm bells should be ringing,” she says. “Our community needs to know that we are in crisis mode.”

At its peak, the charity can serve up to 358 people a day, Fyfe says. That’s up from 140 a few years ago. She says the company is seeing an average increase of 92% in its workforce.

Other programs are experiencing the same increase. Martha’s Table can serve 450 people a day, a 156% increase from pre-pandemic numbers, according to executive director Ronda Candy.

Fyfe says soaring inflation is negatively affecting retirees and families.

“People coming forward now are people who did before, who didn’t need charitable help,” she says. “And now if they don’t come, they don’t eat.”

This year, the organization is on track to distribute more than 50,000 hot meals and has had to close its dining room and switch to takeout to meet demand.

“The loss is significant,” she said. “It used to be a place where people could come, find comfort with their peers, feel like they belong.”

Food prices are up 10 percent.

At Martha’s Table, Candy says costs are rising and donations are down.

“I feel like it’s a result of everyone feeling the pinch. Our donors are so supportive and everyone is giving what they can,” she explains. “It’s a combination rising costs and falling donations, and we’re trying to make more meals than ever. So it’s a real challenge. »

Candy explains that what they see every day even exceeds what they would see during the holiday peaks of previous years.

“Before, our biggest meal was Thanksgiving and the Christmas holidays and we cooked for 350 people. We planned ahead, we worked and we cooked turkeys and so on. Now we cook for 450 people every day. So it’s busy. You have to put it in context. Every day is Christmas dinner.

Fyfe says support programs, like St. Vincent de Paul, will always come true, but she continues to be worried.

“We’re nervous,” she said. “It’s not just a small blip. It’s a year-on-year increase and there’s nothing on the horizon to suggest it’s going to go down.

Christy J. Olson