Rising food costs force the Downtown Mission to scale back to 1 community meal a day

Increasing food costs and a reduction in donations have left the Downtown Mission (DTM) unable to provide three meals per day to community members, the organization said Monday.

Executive director Rukshini Pooniah-Goulin said the board of directors and leadership team has made the difficult decision to provide one community meal only, effective July 1.

"It's a hard set of circumstances that has led us to take this unprecedented course of action," Pooniah-Goulin said.

"For almost eight years we have proudly served three meals to the hungry among us. But expenses continue to escalate, while our donations have not kept pace. We have no other choice until we can find additional sources of revenue and gifts-in-kind."

The mission said a single meal will be available to any hungry person who is without food and has no other place to eat a nutritious meal. Those who are sheltering at the mission through the Sanctuary Program will continue to receive breakfast, lunch and dinner as before.

Rukshini Pooniah-Goulin
Executive director Rukshini Pooniah-Goulin says the DTM board of directors and leadership team has made the difficult decision to provide one community meal only effective July 1. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

Pooniah-Goulin said the DTM spent $495,000 on food last year, while its budget for the year was $375,000.

"That's something that's not sustainable," she said. "And this year food costs have gone up even more than last year, so we just cannot keep up with the demand unfortunately, financially."

But Pooniah-Goulin said this decision was not based purely on costs.

"We want to be able to provide a safe location for people to be here who need to be here, and when there's 50 to 60 additional people here at any given time, it provides less space for those who need to be here," she said.

"Also, it's taking the time and attention of our very limited staff, who then will be able to provide services to people who may need their time and attention more when there's more people."

'It supplements my grocery bill'

Ron Dahl says he's been going to the mission for his daily lunch since 1998.

"It supplements my grocery bill," he said, adding "this is the only hot meal I get a day."

"Even just one meal a day not ate at home … I don't have to pay for food for that day. I'm sure a lot of people feel the same."

Ron Dahl
Ron Dahl says he's been going to the DTM since 1998 for his daily lunch. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

'No one will go hungry': executive director

The Downtown Mission urges people with housing to find other arrangements for their breakfast and dinner.

Options, it says, include potlucks with neighbours, preparing meals at home with what is available, or accepting the support of a friend and family.

"Obviously if someone is truly in desperate circumstances, we will feed that individual, it is our sacred vow. No one will go hungry," Ponniah-Goulin said.

Anthony Nelson, a manager with Street Help, said people affected by the cutback can come to his organization for the additional meals.

"The cost of groceries and everything is really high, so if they can't afford it …  we definitely have food every day so they can come here and get a meal with us."

Meanwhile, the DTM says it is also working with its community partners to co-ordinate and compile a list of social service agencies, their meal programs and serving times. It says this information will be shared with individuals needing food security as soon as it becomes available.

The Downtown Mission also says it will accept donations to the food program in person at the office or online via its website.