The Mustard Seed Food Bank is jumping into the fray on two fronts - one an annual cross-country competition to collect food and funds, the other a local push to counteract a 20 per cent drop in monetary donations over the past two years.
The competition has the Mustard Seed lining up for the fourth straight year as part of the Great Canadian Food Fight. Food banks in Regina, Waterloo and Halifax are also joining in the friendly contest, and encouraging the public to give food items and money to help feed people in need.
The Food Fight runs for 48 hours, from 6 p.m. tonight until 6 p.m. Saturday. The city donating the most food by weight will be declared the winner. Last year, Victorians gave 67.5 tonnes of food and $14,044.
The Mustard Seed has also issued an urgent appeal for public support to help the agency maintain its services and programs, which are completely funded by the community.
Rev. Chris Riddell, the Mustard Seed's executive director, said monetary donations dropped significantly in 2011 and have fallen even more this year. He said the Food Fight comes at an ideal time, given the Mustard Seed's financial position.
Riddell said the Mustard Seed's annual budget is $2 million, so a 20 per cent drop takes $400,000 out of the system at a time when the need has not gone down.
"Financially, we've had to make the drastic step of cutting the hours of our staff," he said. The staff is bare-bones to begin with, Riddell said.
"It's been really heartbreaking for everybody, but necessary."
Food bank officials are intent on staying out of a deficit situation and being there for their clientele, Riddell said.
"We get about 7,000 people a month, 5,000 of them who directly access the food bank," he said.
The other 2,000 access meals, health-care services, the family centre and counselling, he said. About 1,500 children benefit from the Mustard Seed.
Mustard Seed director Brent Palmer said those who are helped are considered to be part of "a very, very large family" with an array of needs. "I wouldn't even want to think what it would be like if we weren't around to supply that service," he said.
Donations to the Great Canadian Food Fight can be made at Ogden Point, the Mustard Seed at 625 Queens Ave., grocery stores or fire halls in Victoria, Saanich, Esquimalt and Oak Bay. A family event will be held Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Ogden Point.
For more information, go to mustardseed.ca.
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