Mustard Seed desperate for help over holidays

The Mustard Seed food bank is in desperate need of volunteers and donations as it gears up for the busiest giving time of year.

“The demand definitely increases over Christmas,” said Colin Tessier, executive director. “It’s a very stressful time for people living in poverty, especially for families where there’s the expectation for gifts and a traditional meal.”

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Tessier said the Mustard Seed needs at least a few hundred volunteers between Dec. 1 and 24 to help in the food bank and help run fundraising gift-wrapping stations in local malls.

“We are in a serious push to find more volunteers. It’s very broad what we’re looking for. If people want to come once or regularly, in a group or alone, anything,” he said.

The Mustard Seed has also seen an unusual dip in donations, likely due to confusion over programs that were recently cancelled because of safety concerns.

“Those programs only affected a small percentage of our clientele. We are, by and large, operating full steam ahead and relying on the public as much as ever,” he said. The programs that were cut were a daily drop-in and weekend dinner. The daily food bank and family centre programming were not affected.

In addition to the 7,000 people the Mustard Seed serves each month at the food bank, Tessier said the organization aims to give out at least 1,200 Christmas hampers.

“We’re doing a drive to get turkeys in every hamper, stuffing, potatoes, fresh vegetables — all the fixings,” he said.

“The goal is to fill people’s pantries and cupboards and give them that feeling of abundance, not going without.”

A highlight of the annual hampers are gifts for children, he added.

According to the Hunger Count 2014 report from Food Banks Canada, nearly 850,000 Canadians used a food bank each month. In British Columbia, more than 97,000 residents visited a food bank in March this year — up 24 per cent from 2008. Thirty per cent of British Columbians who visited a food bank were children under 18 years of age.

Tessier said one common thread among struggling families in Victoria is concern about affordable housing.

“The majority of people we are seeing pay more than 30 per cent of their income to housing, some well north of 50. If you pay that much, you don’t have money for other things,” he said. “It’s a daily reminder of how important affordable housing is in our community.”

The Times Colonist is partnering with the Mustard Seed and the Salvation Army this year to help deliver direct aid to those in need through our annual Christmas Fund campaign.

Since 1956, the Times Colonist Christmas Fund has helped thousands of Victorians during a difficult time of year. Last year, the fund raised and distributed $260,000. This year, we hope to beat that number with your help.

On Dec. 7, the Times Colonist will sponsor the Mustard Seed’s annual Christmas dinner, which will serve more than 1,000 people at the Bay Street Armoury.

spetrescu@timescolonist.com

How to donate

It's quick and easy to donate online

Visit the Canada Helps website to make your donation online

http://www.canadahelps.org/CharityProfilePage.aspx?charityID=s63791

Phone: 250-995-4438

By mail or in person: 2621 Douglas St., Victoria, B.C. V8T 4M2

- See more at: http://www.timescolonist.com/donate-to-the-christmas-fund-and-help-those-in-need-1.20479#sthash.3Vu6g8Zx.dpuf

Visit the Canada Helps website to make your donation online

Phone: 250-995-4438

By mail or in person: 2621 Douglas St., Victoria, B.C. V8T 4M2

Make cheques payable to "Times Colonist Christms Fund"

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