By Emily Stonehouse
The holidays may seem like a festive time of year for some, but for others, the onset of winter can be a cause for panic. “So many people are just feeling the crunch of everything this year,” said Tina Jackson, executive director of the Central Food Network and the co-founder for Heat Bank Haliburton County, “people are borrowing resources from other essential needs, in able to access the basic needs in front of them.”
With the costs of heating, cooling, and power significantly rising, Jackson is passionate about educating the public about a term she calls “energy poverty,” and the prevalence of this in the Haliburton Highlands. “On average, we are working with over 120 households every year, and that continues to increase.”
According to SIRCH Community Services, the poverty rate in Haliburton County is 17.2 per cent, with over 25 per cent of children living in low-income homes. The national average for child poverty hovers at 3.4 per cent. These statistics are pre-COVID, and it is assumed that between the pandemic and the significant increase to cost of living, those numbers are higher presently.
Heat Bank Haliburton County is a tool used by many, to access basic resources for survival throughout the year. “When people hear ‘heat bank’ they think we offer grants to provide heat, and we certainly do that, but we also work at a deeper level to provide support for the immediate concerns of each household,” said Jackson, “when we start working with a household, we think, ‘how can we alleviate all the financial burdens for this household?’”
Jackson shared that some households they work with request a delivery of firewood to tide them over until the next paycheque, while others require more in-depth services, such as funding for bills, access to tax filing support, and connections to community food banks.
The Heat Bank program is run through the Central Food Network (CFN), allowing access to a variety of services based on the needs of the community. Each year, in collaboration with Rhubarb Restaurant, the CFN runs a fundraiser with all funds raised going directly to the Heat Bank. “It is our largest fundraiser of the year,” said Jackson, “I am always blown away by the level of support from local businesses.”
With over sixty items donated to the online auction component, Jackson confirmed that at least 95 percent of them are from local businesses. The online auction is currently open, and leading up to the in-person event at the Rhubarb on Nov. 27, the Heat Bank has raised over $4000. Last year, the event raised over $30,000. “I was blown away by this,” said Jackson, “that was a time that was so challenging for so many people, and there was still so much support.”
Jackson noted that the Heat Bank does not receive any government funding, so without events like the one at Rhubarb on Nov. 27 and the online auction, they would not be able to operate. The amount raised during these fundraisers will dictate the capacity they have to assist the community throughout the year.
Tickets are sold out for the in-person event at Rhubarb at the end of the month, but the online auction went live on Nov. 12, and will remain active until Nov. 27. For more information on the online auction, go to the “Heat Bank Haliburton County, a program of Central Food Network” Facebook page.
If you or someone you know is seeking support from Heat Bank Haliburton County, or if you are interested in volunteering your time or donating, please call 705-306-0565 or visit www.heatbankhc.ca.
By Emily Stonehouse