Food bank sees busiest month ever, expects needs to rise during COVID-19 pandemic

Andrew Sutton/Courier Donna Linton, who runs the Volunteer Centre of Charlotte County, holds a box full of donated meat from Terry’s Beef N More in Saint George. In February, the volunteer centre saw its highest ever usage of the food bank with 112 housholds being served in one three day period.

St. Stephen – The Volunteer Centre of Charlotte County, which provides aid in the form of clothing, food, and other forms of assistance to families in need saw its services being used by more people in February than ever before.

“We served 602 people in February,” said Donna Linton, who runs the centre. “It was the busiest I’ve ever seen it in the last 27 years.”

In just three days between February 13 and 15 the food bank had 112 visits from different households.

February is Hunger Count month, which is when food banks across the country gather data on community usage of the services they provide. That data is compiled into a yearly report by the Food Banks of Canada charity and used to inform policy recommendations and gauge the state of food insecurity in communities across Canada.

According to the 2019 report, food bank use has been steadily increasing across Canada, and though “food banks are finding new and innovative ways to provide healthy, nutritious food and a wide variety of services to support those they serve, only long-term policy solutions can address the root causes of hunger in Canada.”

“Our shelves were really well stocked before last month,“ said Linton, “but we’ve been hard pressed to keep the shelves stocked since.”

Since the first week of January the food bank has been ordering $200 worth of fresh vegetables from Stuart’s Market in St. Stephen.

“We’re trying to switch more to healthier foods,” she added. The volunteer centre now has a large walk in freezer that is stocked with enough bread, yogurt, and protein items in it to last for around a month at current usage.

The majority of donations that the food bank gets come in the form of dry goods and other non perishables. The fresh food which is stored in the freezer comes mainly from the food bank network and donations from the Superstore.

Linton says that one a week the Superstore donates dairy and bakery products, as well as frozen meats which are close to their “sell by” date. Because the food bank is able to keep those items frozen they are able to be stored for longer and given to those who are in need. But even with freezing, the shelf life of the items that the food bank keeps is only around three to six months.

They also have around 30 turkeys which have been donated through the national food sharing system which is run by Food Banks of Canada. Linton says that those turkeys were intended to be given out for Easter, but that if they are needed before then they will be used.

As the national response to COVID-19 increasingly places restrictions on work and social lives, the community usage of the food bank will likely increase. If the economic fallout of the pandemic results in lost jobs and a recession, it’s likely that increase in usage would be sustained over a long time frame.

For now, residents can help support the food bank in a number of ways. The Superstore maintains a box for food bank donations which will take dry goods and shoppers can add to their normal purchases and drop them off in the box.

According to Linton, the greatest need when it comes to non-perishables are things like Kraft Dinner, boxed cereal, canned vegetables and stews, peanut butter and jam, canned meat and fish, and pasta sauce. If you’re adding to your normal grocery shopping, focus on these items.

The food bank also accepts gift cards, which can be purchased at the Superstore and dropped off at the customer service counter. As the volunteer centre is a registered charity, these are eligible for a tax receipt so be sure to leave your name and address if you would like a tax deduction.

Cash donations are also incredibly useful and are eligible for a tax receipt. The food bank accepts cheques by mail which can be sent to 199 Union St, Saint Stephen, NB. They also accept email money transfers which can be sent to volunteercentre1982@hotmail.com with the password food101. Include your name and address in the message section if you would like a tax receipt.

andrewsutton@stcroixcourier.ca