St. Stephen food bank in dire straits, concerned about ability to provide for clients

Sari Green/Courier Donna Linton, Coordinator for the Volunteer Centre of Charlotte County, Inc. said the food bank is in dire straits at the moment, and in desperate need of donations. She is particularly worried about Christmas, and the fact that there will likely be additional families to help with the cancellation of the Santa’s Helpers telethon, which annually helped about 45 to 55 families.

St. Stephen – “Today is my birthday and I have one request. If anyone is around the Superstore please drop a little something in the donation bin for the Food Bank. Their supplies are running a little low.” This was a Facebook post on Tuesday from St. Stephen resident Tess Fawkes, after learning about the situation the local food bank is currently facing. Fawkes said she has always been an advocate for the food bank, and she would like to find ways to make sure that the organization is able to get what it needs in order to help local families.

“I was a single parent once, and I know how hard it is,” said Fawkes. “Most of the jobs around here are minimum wage jobs. If you only have one income, or if you are a parent with children, it’s hard. It’s a sad thing for this community. You don’t see the poverty, but it’s there. I’ve got a job. My husband has a pension. It’s still hard to make ends meet sometimes. I can’t imagine what some families go through.”

Fawkes said she has been trying to come up with ways to help the food bank, and said if she were to win a lottery they would never have to worry again. She said she has had people tell her that because of her post they are going to make donations to the food bank. She told them to drop off donations in a box that is at the Superstore for that purpose.

Donna Linton, Coordinator for the Volunteer Centre of Charlotte County, Inc., which runs the food bank, said one of her biggest concerns at the moment is the cancellation of the annual Santa’s Helpers telethon. She said the telethon helped anywhere from 45 to 55 families each year, and now those families are going to need help from other sources. Linton doesn’t know if the food bank is going to be able to accommodate the anticipated overflow.

“Does anybody know where those 55 families might get help?” Linton asked. “If somebody else kicks in it could work, but there’s so much to consider. It’s got to be another organization, such as the fire department. It can’t just be any group of people who could pull this off.”

Because of the shortages at the food bank, and the fact there will be even more families needing help this year, Linton said they are considering not filling any Christmas hampers this year.

“We’re thinking about not having Christmas hampers this year. How can we do what we always do and have another 55 families added to the list? I’m old. I’m tired. We have two staff, we only have a government commitment of $30,000 each year, to cover two staff members.

“This is to pay two people and to run the organization. We do fundraise, and we also seek money from corporations. We just don’t have very much time to put in applications for funding when we have to roll 7,000 pounds of food through the food bank every month.”

Without Christmas coming into play, Linton said they generally give out 300 or more hampers each month. Linton said there were 35 families in need last Friday, and another 31 walked through the doors on Monday. Unfortunately, this isn’t a number that is going to decrease. In fact, Linton expects it to stay the same or even increase.

“Most of them are getting $25 or less for groceries for the month once other bills are paid,” said Linton. “Welfare is not going up. The government has announced that they are not going to be putting welfare up in the next four years.”

Linton is perplexed at the mindset of many people after they heard about the cancellation of this popular Christmas program. Instead of worrying about how the families the program helped each year, people seem to be more concerned about the fact that their kids aren’t going to be able to have fun performing at the show.

Food bank shelves are pretty empty at the moment, and the organization is in dire need of staple food items. Linton said they are always in need of such things as canned soups and stews, cereal, pasta, canned tuna and canned salmon, kids’ drinks, and peanut free snacks. She also mentioned that canned milk is an item that is much in demand, because it is so versatile. They do regularly receive reclaimed food products from the Superstore and Giant Tiger, but these are items that are about to expire, and they must be used right away or frozen to add to their shelf life.

“We’re getting meats that are due, and a lot of dairy. It’s food that has to be consumed within a few days, but we’re good with that. It saves them from having to send it to the landfill, and our clients get more variety.”

Linton said the food bank isn’t about to close its doors, and they are always looking for donations, as well as fundraising ideas. They also have their Frugal store, which is open to the public on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Anyone can go in and fill a bag with items from the store for $5 per bag, and there is also a monthly yard sale. Food bank clients can shop at Frugal at any time during Volunteer Centre business hours. All money raised through Frugal sales goes right back into the food bank to help St. Stephen area families who are in need.

sarigreen@stcroixcourier.ca