More than 300 charities in Ottawa are using a computer database to stop people from double-dipping.

The Caring and Sharing Exchange runs the database, which is free to use after it was set up about 10 years ago.

mi-ott-database-300

Cindy Smith from the Caring and Sharing Exchange says the database prevents duplicate users among 300 Ottawa charities. (Kristy Nease/CBC)

Cindy Smith, the group's executive director, says more than 300 charities in Ottawa use the database for the Christmas food voucher and hamper program, and about 150 use it for the newer back-to-school program.

The database saved about $2 million in duplications in the past three years, all of which went to help others.

"It's not that people are trying to cheat the system necessarily, it's just that some people are so desperate for help that they'll go two or three places to try to get on the list to ensure that they get help," Smith said. "Because the unfortunate reality is that when the economy goes down, so do the donor dollars, but the need tends to go up."

About 27,000 people signed up for help for last year's Christmas program, Smith said. This season, they're expecting about 29,000 people.

The Shepherds of Good Hope has used the database for at least eight years.

Drop in duplications

Lynda Geddes, a front-line care worker, co-ordinates the Christmas hamper and voucher program there. Since she started, she said there has been a drop in the number of duplications.

mi-ott-geddes-300

Lynda Geddes says the system is working for the Shepherds of Good Hope. (Kristy Nease/CBC)

"I'd say there's been a reduction in the amount of families that actually come in and that we actually find as duplicates over the past years because we're using the system and we're letting them know that double-dipping ... is being noticed and it's not accepted with us," Geddes said.

She and Smith agree databases like this should be set up in other communities and Smith said Ottawa's database could grow to be useful year-round.

The Caring and Sharing Exchange recently received a software grant to update the database and make it easier to use and manage.

They hope the new system will be up and running in time for next year's back-to-school program.