How are local food banks faring through COVID-19?

Sari Green/Courier Don Killam from the Food Depot in Moncton unloads a shipment of frozen food at the St. Stephen Food Bank with the help of Donna Linton, coordinator for the Volunteer Centre of Charlotte County, Inc.

St. George – Surprisingly, food banks aren’t being hit as hard as one might expect during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is likely due to people receiving special benefits from the government such as the Canada Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB), as well as relief from the Red Cross. But, this doesn’t mean things will stay this way. Once federal and assistance money runs out, food banks in Charlotte County may start seeing more clients, including people who have never used food banks previously.

At the moment, most food banks in the area are doing well, and are not in need of additional donations. This is not to say that they won’t be in need of donations in the coming weeks. That remains to be seen.

Sarah Norman, executive director of the St. George & Area Food Bank, said they are very fortunate right now in that they don’t have a lot of needs, thanks to federal and provincial programs, as well as the generosity of the community. She said she and other food bank directors have been meeting regularly to talk about what is happening, food-wise, and how to prepare for a possible influx of new clients.

“We’re very fortunate that in New Brunswick right now we still haven’t been hit by this huge tsunami of people we were all expecting,” said Norman. “I don’t know if it’s a result of being in a place where there’s no cases. It could be a result of all that fantastic federal money that went out. Maybe the tsunami of people is coming.

“We still don’t really know. Definitely, if we keep on this road for the next several months, we’re definitely going to have some needs. Food doesn’t just multiply once it gets here.”

Norman said she expects at some point in the near future to see people who have never needed to use a food bank before, and she wants them to know that help is available, and that they should not be afraid to ask for it. She said all food banks in the area want people to know how easy it is to get assistance when they need it, and that all of the services are non-judgmental.

The Volunteer Centre of Charlotte County, Inc. operates the St. Stephen Food Bank, and like the St. George & Area Food Bank, they are currently managing the needs of all of their clients. Coordinator Donna Linton said they also want to reach out and let people know help is available to them if they are in need of food. She also pointed out she expects to see people who have never needed food banks before to need them in the coming weeks and months, and they should not be afraid to ask for help.

“We don’t want people to hit rock bottom before they know we’re here. Just come when you feel like it, just to check it out. There’s no harm in getting a hamper and seeing if it works for you,” said Linton.

Linton said local food banks are receiving donations from Food Depot Alimentaire (FDA), and they make deliveries each Tuesday. The items are different each week. The first week, they received a shipment of milk and milk products. The following week, it was a shipment of dry goods. The most recent shipment was frozen foods.

“That’s part of the million dollars from McCain and Irving so they’re delivering straight to every food bank,”she said.

Linton added the St. Stephen Food Bank picks up food for the Deer Island Safety Net food bank, and someone from that organization comes to St. Stephen to pick up the food items.

The St. Andrews and Area Open Door Program operates a little bit differently, but they still rely on the generosity of the community to ensure those who cannot get groceries will be able to have food in their homes. Volunteer Michelle Leger said they give out PC gift cards to approximately 60 to 70 clients each month, which they can then use to go out shopping for their own groceries.

Due to social distancing regulations, the program has had to make some slight changes in how they normally would operate. Under normal circumstances, they would have a day when clients would come to the Anglican Church Hall and pick up their gift cards. In order to adhere to new regulations, the gift cards are being mailed out to clients.

“We just went to a mail out service for the next little while, until it’s safe again to return to socializing,” said Leger. “We just called our clients and let them know that this is what we were going to be doing, verified their addresses, and explained that we still needed the same requirements from them, to keep their receipts.”

Leger said the organization would like to acknowledge the community for their generous donations, and said without these donations they would not be able to operate. She said they are making the “best use of those dollars” and doing the best that they can for their clients.

“We operate this program because of everyone’s donations and generosity. We continue to be grateful for the community sharing. If it wasn’t for people thinking of other people, we wouldn’t be able to do this.”

The food bank coordinators have collaborated to create the announcement below to share with Charlotte County residents:

Charlotte County food banks are ready and able to support the COVID-19 community food response.

The impacts of COVID-19 may have us in personal situations that we never expected, a loss of hours, loss of jobs, extra household costs or having the kids home all day. During times like this, we may need to reach out to each other for support and rely on the strength in our communities.

In Charlotte County, we are coordinating the COVID-19 community food response through our local food banks to streamline access in a safe and manageable way. This allows us to focus our efforts, volunteers and donations in support of existing organizations that are already following food safety guidelines.

Being part of a community means that sometimes we help and sometimes we need to ask for help, and that’s okay. If you and your family need a little extra help with food right now, please reach-out. The food banks are well stocked and can provide delivery in the local area. During this time, you do not need to be a client of the food bank or provide any financial information, if you need help, you will get help.

We will get through this together, just six feet apart. For more information, please contact your local food bank.

sarigreen@stcroixcourier.ca