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Busby Centre braces for higher demand with Salvation Army's meal program ending

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The Salvation Army's Barrie Bayside Mission is ending its community meal program as of April 1. Simcoe County will redistribute the program's $140,000 funding to other local food security agencies.

"This is going to be a really big impact for our community," said Sara Peddle, executive director of the Busby Centre.

Staff with the Salvation Army said it saw a spark in demand for the decade-long service during the pandemic but had seen those numbers begin to decline and, in recent months, felt it was the right time to re-evaluate how to best serve the community.

"How best we can as a community, as a partner agency, work with other agency partners and the county to distribute that responsibility and make sure people had access to food and meals wherever they found themselves in the community," said Glenn van Gulik of the Salvation Army.

The services that received some of that redistributed money that provided free daily lunches and dinners to those in need say it could be more impactful after being divided.

"Unfortunately, it's really covering the inflation on food costs for our programs anyway and the increased demand, so we will still need support from the community," said Peddle.

Daily food for Salvation Army residents and other meal programs will stay the same.

But the Busby Centre is bracing for even higher demand from vulnerable, hungry people.

"We're anticipating that we will see an increase to our outreach van and to our centre looking for food," said Peddle.

One client, who has been reliant on the service, echoed Peddle's sentiment.

"They have to go to the Busby van. So, the Busby is going to be overrun with people because this way, it splits them up, but now, they have to go to one source. It's not going to be easy," said the man who wished to remain anonymous after picking up his food at the Salvation Army in the final days of the program.

While clients say the sudden change saddens them, those at the Busby Centre say they are grateful for the Salvation Army's decade-long efforts, but this leaves a big gap to fill.

"I'd be hard-pressed to think this problem is going away anytime soon. I think it's going to perpetuate additional problems because if people are having to purchase food, if community programs are not available, then they may not be able to pay their rent," explained Peddle.

Stakeholders like Peddle say they will now be advocating different levels of government for additional funding.

"Because this is a crisis. We're already in a housing crisis, and now we're looking at a food security crisis within our communities if we don't have funding to make sure that programs like the Salvation Army are funded," added Peddle.

The Busby Centre, the Barrie Food Bank, and other local faith and community agencies met this week to discuss this decision's short- and long-term impacts.

In the meantime, the Busby Centre is preparing increasing bagged lunches and emergency grocery bags for this weekend when the change begins.

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