Spreading good cheer and helping those in need is top of mind for many during the holiday season. As festive donations come through the doors of the Newmarket Food Pantry, executive director Judy Poulin can’t help but marvel at the support that surrounds her. “I’m still amazed that when we ask for support, it’s always there,” Poulin says. “I think that has a little bit to do with the fact that people can really relate to our cause. Food is a very universal thing—and for that, we are very blessed.”
The Newmarket Food Pantry was formed in 1988 by a group of local churches. Today, it has grown from its humble beginnings in the basement of Old Town Hall to a new location on Gorham Street. Each month, over 400 local families turn to the pantry for support. “It’s an unfortunate reality, but our numbers continue to rise,” explains Poulin, noting that the public is usually shocked to learn just how many people access food banks in their own backyard.
According to the Ontario Food Banks Association, 70 per cent of people who use food banks are considered low-income. However, the remaining 30 per cent of clients are considered middle-income earners. More often than not, food banks are visited on a temporary basis by families requiring emergency support. Clients who visit the Newmarket Food Pantry receive three days’ worth of food for every person in their household per month. The pantry does not qualify people based on income.
“If someone is going through a hard time, they fall ill, or they go from a two-income household to a one-income household, buying food often falls by the wayside,” Poulin says. “Your neighbour could be using a food bank and you may have no idea.”
These clients may be the lifeblood of the pantry—but at the very heart of the operation is the community that surrounds it. The Newmarket Food Pantry does not receive any government funding. All of the money used to pay its staff, keep up with operating expenses, and to buy additional produce and supplies comes entirely from donations and fundraising events. The same is true of the Aurora Food Pantry, which helps around 200 families per month. “We appreciate everything that people do,” says Aurora manager Sandra Seepaul. “We know people’s ability to give is varied. But we don’t care how much they give, just that they are giving.”
As the holiday giving season begins, these community initiatives thrive on the generous donations of community members. However, both Poulin and Seepaul remind us that donations are needed year-round in order to truly help those in need. “We’re thrilled people give so much during the holidays, but we need donations all year long. Everything we collect between Thanksgiving and Christmas has to last us through the summer,” explains Seepaul. “People aren’t usually organizing food drives during other times of the year, but it’s really important that we support food pantries year-round.”
SUPPORT THOSE IN NEED THIS HOLIDAY SEASON
However you choose to support your local food pantry this holiday season is greatly appreciated. Both pantries are in need of perishable and non-perishable items, including canned goods, peanut butter, juice boxes, nutritious school snacks, toiletries (including toilet paper, feminine products, and diapers), and baby food or formula.
During the holidays, Seepaul recommends thinking about what specialty items you like to have in your home during the holidays (like candy canes or Christmas cookies) and picking up an extra box to bring to the food bank. “When our clients see something they don’t normally get to have it’s exciting,” she notes. “It’s the little things that make the holidays special.”
The Newmarket Food Pantry works hard to put together a Christmas dinner package for all of their clients on top of their monthly food allowance. In addition to their annual Turkey Drive, the pantry is asking for donations of disposable roasting pans, stuffing mix, cranberry sauce, and fresh produce like potatoes in order to give each client the Christmas dinner they deserve.
by NICOLE BOGART
The Newmarket Food Pantry
The Aurora Food Pantry