United Counties of Prescott and Russell (UCPR) council has agreed to fund a project aimed at better coordinating local community food programs such as those provided by food banks. 

UCPR council approved the contribution of $18,750 for the Eastern Ontario Agri-Food Network (EOAN) on February 23. Council first received the EOAN request at the February 9 Committee of the Whole meeting. The EOAN has requested $75,000 or $18,750 for four years. 

The EOAN is planning to develop a community food coordination function that responds to the direction of a steering committee intended to facilitate and coordinate communication and collaboration among stakeholders related to food security. Those stakeholders include community service agencies, food banks, food producers, restaurants, retailers, the education sector, and municipal authorities. 

Another EOAN plan is to establish a Local Food Security Forum which will allow stakeholders to access information about local food security and community needs. 

The EOAN’s plans are a result of a previous study done in 2020 and 2021 identifying the need to better coordinate the supplying of food banks after the COVID-19 pandemic left the inventory of many of them depleted. 

Compounding mental health, demographic, and housing challenges are leading to increased needs for community-provided food among lower income residents. 

The EOAN is planning to use the funding from the UCPR and other supportive regional governments and organizations to hire a full-time coordinator. 

On February 9, council agreed to use $18,750 of the $40,000 already in the 2022 budget for the development of the community food coordination group, but first requested a report from Director of Economic Development and Tourism Carol Lavigne before the final decision was made on February 23. 

Russell Township Mayor Pierre Leroux said he wanted to see more information ahead of time. 

“I don’t like to make decisions without hearing all the facts, so I wouldn’t be ready to support this on what’s being presented today,” said Leroux. 

Hawkesbury Mayor Paula Assaly agreed. She is not opposed to the project but wanted more information explaining the difference between the funds already allocated and the plans for the additional funds being requested.  

Clarence-Rockland Mayor Mario Zanth agreed with Assaly and Leroux. 

Council approved the recommendation to provide the $18,750 to EOAN unanimously on January 23.