"Tonight thousands of parents across the province are going to come home and look at their heating bill or fridge and have to make a terrible choice," Adam Spence, executive director of the Ontario Association of Food Banks, said at the kickoff for the Energy GreenBox program.
The program, in its second year, is a partnership between the association and Friends of the Earth Canada, with the support of founding sponsor Enbridge Gas Distribution Inc.
This year, 25,000 kits stocked with items designed to keep the cold out and the heat in, like treatments to seal windows and doors, will be distributed to food banks in 14 communities across the province. Last year, 20,000 kits were sent out.
The boxes were shipped from Booth Industries in Etobicoke, a Salvation Army program that provides job training to people with psychological illnesses. Program participants packed the boxes.
Spence said low-income families spend a far greater proportion of their income on electricity than higher income families. That works out to about 14 cents of every dollar spent on heating bills and a big cut to grocery budgets, he said.
More than 320,000 families in the province rely on food banks, 84,000 in Toronto, Spence said.
"We wanted to do something with a population of people in Ontario who have an interest in climate change but might not have access" to the proper supplies or assistance, said Beatrice Olivastri, chief executive officer of Friends of the Earth. For the first time this year, participating food banks will hold workshops to help clients use the products efficiently, she said.
"We can't buy our way out of the energy crisis. This is a way we can do meaningful work at low cost."
The boxes will also feature an information form for a pilot project launched by Enbridge Gas in June which provides home energy audits for low-income families in Peel and Toronto. If the house qualifies, the program assists with the installation of energy-saving devices.
Peter Love, chief energy conservation officer with the Conservation Bureau, said the project represents the three E's that should be high on the minds of people living in Ontario: economy, employment and environment.
"Everybody is looking to play a role," he said.