Helping families break bread

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One turkey, five pounds of potatoes, a box of stuffing mix, two packages gravy mix, one baked pie, one bag frozen mixed vegetables, and of course, cranberry sauce.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/10/2021 (304 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

One turkey, five pounds of potatoes, a box of stuffing mix, two packages gravy mix, one baked pie, one bag frozen mixed vegetables, and of course, cranberry sauce.

As Thanksgiving approached, volunteers at the new food bank in Thompson, which is run by Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, were busy packing food boxes for families in the north.

It marked their first major holiday since opening; after a long period of research, searching for space and digging up funding, MKO launched the food bank on Sept. 24. By that time, there was a long list of applicants.

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Dallas Holden, a staff member, adds whipped cream to plates of pie at Siloam Mission on Friday when the organization fed dozens of community members Thanksgiving lunch.

“Our mandate above and beyond anything is that we’re going to try to feed people and help them out during these trying times, especially in recovery after the pandemic,” said Shyanna Lynxleg, urban initiatives manager at MKO.

Every two weeks, families who have been approved will get packages with dry goods such as pasta, canned soup, and loaves of bread.

Urban Indigenous families from MKO’s 26-member First Nations need just one piece of ID to apply.

The food bank will take applications from elders, mothers and those with mobility issues over the phone and deliver food packages for those unable to make it to the food bank.

“We try not to have a lot of red tape involved,” said Lynxleg. “We understand a lot of our urban Indigenous people don’t have access to vehicles, they don’t have money for a cab. So we’re just trying to make it easier for them and to make them understand it’s not a bad thing to ask for food, especially during this recovery period.”

The food bank goes out of its way to provide more than just food. In an effort to support new mothers and moms-to-be, it provides “baby baskets,” which include diapers, formula, baby clothes, and a car seat for a newborn.

“Mothers can’t leave the hospital without having a car seat for their child,” said Lynxleg. They provide “pretty much everything a baby needs to get started for the first three months.”

They prepare care packages that include clothing, shoes and hygiene products for people medically evacuated to Thompson from MKO First Nations.

“We don’t want our people having to go back home in their pyjamas in the wintertime; we don’t want them to go back home with nothing in any season to be truthful, we want to make sure they’re well cared for.”

In just nine days of operation, the food bank delivered more than 250 packages to local families.

The food bank was the longtime vision of MKO executive director Kelvin Lynxleg. The team worked to source funding, find space, and sort out the details of how it would run.

Eventually, the team found landlords who provided a renovated building.

“It came in a flurry,” said Lynxleg. “Once we were given the go-ahead, we had to work like mad to get it up and going.”

Shyanna Lynxleg credited the organization’s urban initiative team — four young adults — with putting in the work to bring the space to life.

The vision was to create a food bank that felt “homey” and comfortable, said Lynxleg.

The space is stocked with toys, colouring books and puzzles; snacks and coffee; couches and chairs.

“We’re trying to make it comfortable for our people; it’s difficult to ask for food, I understand that, so we wanted to make this an easier process for them,” she said.

Felicia Castel said she felt welcome at the food bank.

“The atmosphere was very clean, accessible and the food bank is very convenient to many people. The front desk lady (Laura) was kind, courteous, and knowledgeable. The hamper packer (Matthew) was quiet but kind.”

Another community member said the atmosphere was cheery.

“All of the workers seemed happy to be there. I’m happy with my hamper because it helps out my family a lot,” wrote Krissy Frank.

In the spirit of reconciliation, the MKO has worked alongside the Salvation Army food bank. The two entities share information to avoid duplicating clients and ensure food is in abundance at both spaces.

“The community has really taken it to heart, understanding there’s this identified need for a food bank,” said Lynxleg. “It’s been wonderful.”

The food bank is open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday. MKO accepts donations, either directly in Thompson or through the MKO office in Winnipeg.

julia-simone.rutgers@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @jsrutgers

Julia-Simone Rutgers

Julia-Simone Rutgers
Reporter

Julia-Simone Rutgers is a climate reporter with a focus on environmental issues in Manitoba. Her position is part of a three-year partnership between the Winnipeg Free Press and The Narwhal, funded by the Winnipeg Foundation.

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