Food bank devoted to feeding community
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This article was published 08/09/2021 (512 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
If you can lift and carry 20- to 40-pound boxes and have some free time on Wednesdays, there’s a volunteer opportunity open for you.
“We’re always on the lookout for volunteers who are strong,” said Paulette Côté, lead volunteer co-ordinator for St. Mary’s Road United Church’s food bank at 613 St. Mary’s Rd.
The food bank which, Côté says, now serves approximately 240 families or a total of between 500 and 750 people each month, has been run by volunteers for over 25 years. It has always operated as an outreach project for the church’s congregation but has the support of many others as well as local businesses. Food supplies also come from Harvest Manitoba, Second Harvest and Leftovers Foundation. Fresh produce arrives from church members’ gardens as well as a community garden run by church volunteers including Côté’s husband Peter.
Food bank donations can be dropped off on Wednesdays between 9:30 and 11 a.m.
“The current demand is larger than ever for services,” said Joan Boone, who served as volunteer co-ordinator for 21 years.
With an increasing demand for food and household items, such as toilet paper and personal hygiene products, the need for volunteers grows too. Côté said a core group of about 17 people help each week. They must unload delivered donations, sort the items and pack them in bags and boxes. The bags and boxes are stacked on long rows of tables, then handed out to guests on Wednesday afternoons.
“When that door opens, we are ready,” volunteer Donna Normand said.
Côté said providing nutritious food is a priority and they are trying to move away from high-sugar products. Halal foods are available. The food bank typically offers enough food that a family can stretch it out to last almost a month if they are careful.
Some people using the food bank aren’t able to transport their boxes home themselves so volunteers are on hand to deliver them. After the food bank’s doors close at 3 p.m., there is clean-up work to be done.
Côté said, during the period of strict COVID-19 regulations, only 10 people could work together at one time. Another major change that continues is the need to serve guests outdoors.
“We aren’t able to welcome our guests indoors,” she said, adding that they also can’t provide freshly baked treats that used to be part of the food bank experience.
“We got to hold their babies and to know them personally,” Boone said. “I miss the hugs.”
Despite the need to follow pandemic guidelines, the food bank volunteers make an effort to connect with their guests. They offer recipes and started a newsletter.
“We want to err on the side of compassion,” Boone said.
“We’ve tried to pivot to serve our guests as much as possible,” Côté said.
At a recent volunteer appreciation event about 20 people were recognized for their work. Côté said some of the older volunteers are reluctant to come back due to health concerns. This means she’s eager to welcome new volunteers like Blaine Hadaller.
Hadaller credits Boone with recruiting him. He lives near the United Church and was aware of the food bank but he said his eyes were really opened after he started volunteering about four months ago.
“There’s no judgment here,” he said, noting that all are welcomed and helped without question.
All guests and volunteers wear masks. Volunteers who work inside the church must be fully vaccinated. For those who aren’t, jobs like delivering food boxes and holding food drives are available.
Côté said student volunteers used to come from Glenlawn Collegiate. Although the pandemic ended their direct involvement, Glenlawn students and staff held a successful food drive during the last school year, and she hopes this will happen again. Donations of plastic and reusable grocery bags as well as cardboard boxes and egg cartons are also needed.
To contact the food bank, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Andrea Geary is a community correspondent for St. Vital. Email her at email@example.com
St. Vital community correspondent
Andrea Geary is a community correspondent for St. Vital and was once the community journalist for The Headliner.