Free meal service cut back as Montreal community food centre faces high demand

Click to play video: 'The Depot Community Food Centre in NDG is cutting back on its free restaurant service'
The Depot Community Food Centre in NDG is cutting back on its free restaurant service
The Depot Community Food Centre in NDG is cutting back on its free restaurant service – Jul 4, 2024

Premmata Jowata has been coming to the Depot Community Food Centre in NDG for about a year now.

The single mother says she has been unable to find a job and struggling financially, so she’s been leaning on the depot for help.

“Everybody who comes here has financial problems, something going on in their lives,” Jowata said. “Life has ups and downs and we are grateful to have this organization to help us.”

The organization, once known as the NDG Food Depot, is a pillar in the community, serving people since 1986.

Its food bank offers clients a dignified shopping experience with high-quality food and its restaurant serves people freshly cooked meals — for free.

It says over the last few years, it’s been struggling with high demand, but not has not received any additional funding — so it has no choice but to reduce its services.

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Beginning the week of July 15, it will cut down the restaurant’s hours, closing on Fridays, meaning it will go from serving meals four days a week to three.

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“Over the past two years, the two past fiscal years that finished in March, our budget increased by about 40 per cent, but in that same period, demand tripled for our food bank and for the resto,” said Tasha Lackman, the Depot Community Food Centre’s executive director.

In the past, a busy day at the depot’s restaurant was about 200 people. Now, that number is more like 300.

Lackman says the organization simply doesn’t have the resources to hire any more staff or make any more meals.

“Last year, we did $20,000 emergency food baskets and we did about $45,000 at the resto. We just keep beating our own records,” Lackman said.

“If we were a for-profit organization, that would be good news. But as a non-profit, it’s a reflection of an affordability crisis, a housing crisis and of the fact that food insecurity is an income issue.”

Lackman says less than 18 per cent of its funding comes from the three levels of government, with only 3.5 per cent coming from the province.

In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson with Quebec’s Health and Social Services Ministry said “the government recognizes the effort and indispensable nature of the services offered by these community organizations and funds them in part through the Community Organization Support Program.”

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“During the study of budgetary appropriations, Minister (Lionel) Carmant confirmed an indexation of nearly three per cent of the funding under the Community Organization Support Program. This amount is in addition to the $10 million for 2024-2025 as presented in the budget.”

Lackman says the depot’s situation isn’t unique — food banks across the city are struggling to keep up.

She says if all levels of government don’t start investing more in organizations dealing with food insecurity, things will only get worse before getting any better.

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