KINGSTON — City council approved spending $375,000 over the next five years to support the creation of a distribution warehouse for local food charities.
The funding, $75,000 a year, is come from Phase 3 of the social services relief fund and the social services stabilization reserve.
“We all know of the significant increase in need for food and mealprograms due to the pandemic,” said Bhavana Varma, president and chief executive officer of the United Way of Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington. “We also have learned the value of having a space where large donations can be received, stored and distributed to agencies. Without this space, we would lose the ability to receive large donations from farmers, community gardens and restaurants.”
The United Way has committed $50,000 a year and hired someone to oversee the setup of the warehouse.
The warehouse project would be a partnership between the city, the United Way, Kingston Community Health Centres, Lionhearts and Loving Spoonful.
Since the pandemic began last year, the agencies that provide food to those in need have seen demand for their services from seniors, students and families increase dramatically, Helen Mabberly of KCHC said.
Since the pandemic began, KCHC has distributed about 260,000 pounds of food and seen use of its Good Food Box program more than triple to 9,600 boxes.
A new food warehouse would replace the gymnasium at the Kingston Gospel Temple, which has served as a storage facility for Lionhearts since last year.
“That gymnasium that we have been sharing is going to be used again for its original purposes,” Sean Sargeant of Lionhearts said.
“That 20-foot-by-14-foot refrigerator we built between the basketball nets needs to go somewhere so we can continue to build upon the incredible things that have been accomplished this year,” he added.
“No hunger and no waste — let’s continue to work on that together.”
The food warehouse project is seeking at least a 10,000-square-foot facility that can accommodate a loading dock, forklift, a walk-in freezer, cold storage, a space to wash and prep vegetables and a space to pack food boxes.
A permanent food warehouse would allow the partner agencies to accept larger donations and keep food that would otherwise spoil before it can be used, Sargeant explained.
About one-quarter of the produce donated through Loving Spoonful’s Grow-A-Row program is wasted because there is not enough storage space. Last year, the program saw a 20 per cent increase in donations.
In 2019, Lionhearts handed out $2.1 million worth of food. Last year, that amount increased to $3.4 million.
Despite the demonstrated need for a permanent warehouse site, how it is to be funded by the city was questioned by some city councillors.
Loyalist-Cataraqui District Coun. Simon Chapelle suggested that the $75,000 annual cost be covered by the city’s by-donation climate action fund.
That fund only raised about $30,000 since it’s creation, so it doesn’t have enough money in it to cover the cost, nor is its funding potential stable enough to allow a lease to be signed by the fund’s recipients, chief administrative officer Lanie Hurdle said.
Several councillors also questioned why Kingston was the only municipal government being asked to financially support the warehouse as it will act as a regional facility.
Their concerns were answered somewhat by assurances that the city’s contribution is coming out of provincial government funding.