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The season of giving and food drives has ended, but food insecurity is a year-round concern in Muskoka.
That’s according to the recently-released Vital Signs report by the Muskoka Community Foundation, which says food bank usage more than doubled in certain communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Volunteer-run organization Gravenhurst Against Poverty (GAP) fed 73 families per week from 2019 to 2020. From 2020 to 2021, that number shot up to 236 families.
According to Bonnie Dart, Chair of GAP, that translates to between 600 and 650 people per week.
Dart says holiday food drives do well to stock the shelves with non-perishables, but fresh produce is equally important in keeping people physically and mentally healthy.
“Poverty doesn’t stop when the holiday season is over, of course,” says Dart. “At this point, we have substantial food from those food drives, but we’re trying to put out fresh produce. That’s one of the things in our need assessment that we found. That’s what was most expensive for them to attain.”
The fresh food provided by GAP comes from a few sources. GAP Gardens grow produce during the summer months, and volunteers visit Gravenhurst’s three grocery stores to “rescue” food that will soon be thrown out but is still good to eat.
The Canadian Red Cross also provides frozen meals to the organization, which Dart says usually last for a few months. The rest, she says, needs to be bought weekly.
“What will we do if we don’t get those meals provided, how will we get the food out to people,” says Dart. “That’s always the challenge with GAP and any other organization providing food, is when will the funding end, or how long will the money continue to come in to support this cause?”
Dart says the need in Muskoka reflects the notion of “poverty with a view,” a phrase she’s heard describe scenic locales with underlying issues.
“I heard it in reference to somewhere in the United States, and I thought ‘that’s like Muskoka,’ it’s poverty with a view,” says Dart. “It has natural beauty, rocks and trees and lakes, and it’s a playground for so many people that don’t always see the poverty that exists locally. There’s so many people on low income or with precarious work situations where they don’t know how much money they’re going to have in a given week.”
Dart notes that many well-off locals, as well as the seasonal cottagers that make up a good portion of the area’s population, have taken notice of the problem and are doing their best to help. That said, she says the organization is always in need of donated time and money.
If you’d like to volunteer or donate, visit Gravenhurst Against Poverty’s website.