Are food banks swamped at the moment? Do they need help? What demographic has been hit hardest by the pandemic, leading them to visit food banks for the first time?
Here are five things to know about food banks.
1. DEMAND IS UP … AGAIN
Many food banks braced themselves for a huge spike in demand when the pandemic hit in March. While that may be true for bigger cities, it’s more of an initial clamour, then a levelling off of demand in most Renfrew County food banks.
Judith Herweyer, Calabogie Food Bank co-ordinator, attributes the tapering demand to the weekly $500 from CERB (Canada Emergency Response Benefit), which ended in September.
When CERB ended, some people were still able to get employment insurance for a few more weeks. Now, the need for food banks has started to rise again, with challenges looming due to the pandemic’s second wave and a provincewide lockdown starting Dec. 26 at 12:01 a.m.
“We noticed lately that we are getting some new clients every month. It’s climbing again,” said Gale Edmondson, a volunteer from Eganville Food Bank.
“Some people were falling through the cracks and got left out (of benefits),” said Patrick Wilson from Deep River Food Bank. He cites as an example someone who has had an industrial accident — they’d have to apply for benefits and undergo a lengthy approval process.
The Madawaska Valley Food Bank has seen a client increase of 30 per cent since March, and it hasn’t let up, according to Paul Thompson.
2. STIGMA IS COMMON
“There’s still a lot of stigma, especially with seniors, about food banks,” said Dan Harrington of Killaloe Food Bank.
Harrington helped solve this problem by delivering food anonymously and mailing grocery gift cards. It increased their capacity to reach new clients. Eganville also delivers food to clients’ homes.
“We’re only a phone call away,” he said. He stressed that the need for food bank services is temporary and shouldn’t cause feelings of shame.
“It’s like a bank; when there’s times of need, you make a withdrawal. When circumstances change, you can make a deposit. Several people who have accessed food banks (in the past) become volunteers,” Harrington said.
3. BIGGEST DEMOGRAPHIC
Wilson (Deep River) used a retired senior citizen as an example, who’d been a cashier at Walmart, receiving only the average monthly Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Old Age Security (OAS) payments of roughly $1300.
He said that after rent and groceries, there won’t be enough money left for car payments, fuel costs, insurance, phone and other needs. This is the reality for a lot of seniors.
Killaloe Food Bank counts half of their clients as seniors. “A lot of seniors live below the poverty level and access our services,” Harrington said.
4. THE NEEDS HAVE CHANGED
While Edmondson (Eganville) doesn’t discount donations of non-perishable goods as a “symbol of what food banks are about,” she said there are other ways to help.
“Monetary donations go further, as we can buy more food than the public does because we buy in bulk,” she explained.
Food may be the highest priority, but personal hygiene products are also in demand — soap, feminine hygiene products and adult diapers.
“Things that enable (seniors) to go out and circulate,” said Wilson (Deep River).
5. FOOD BANKS ARE WELL SUPPORTED
Since the pandemic began, a $200-million grant from the government’s Emergency Food Security Fund had been distributed to food banks across the country.
Large community donations have ensured that food banks in Renfrew County are starting from a good financial state to help those in need.
Bonnie Helferty from Cobden Food Bank said that “we’re very lucky; we’ve had food drives from schools and churches. People pop in with $20 or $50.”
Eganville, Killaloe, Calabogie, Madawaska Valley and Deep River's pantries are all well stocked.
“You can judge a community by how they care for the less fortunate. This is an area who has done a very good job with taking care of those in need,” Harrington said (Killaloe). “There’s a great need out there and we have the capacity to fill those needs."
For more information, visit www.renfrewcountyfoodbanks.ca/contact.
Yona Harvey, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Smiths Falls Record News