Ask the coordinator or assistant coordinator of the Powassan and District Food Bank and both will tell you the same thing — without the volunteers, the community wouldn’t have a food bank.
Diane Cole, who serves as assistant coordinator, says eight people in total, including her and coordinator Sally McCharles, make up the food bank.
The volunteers range in age from 40 to 82.
Cole says there also is a student who helps out, which takes the final tally to nine people. The work is divided into sections, with some of the volunteers buying the groceries and others preparing food orders for clients.
“We’re very lucky when it comes to volunteers,” says McCharles.
“We’ve had good, solid volunteers who really care about the food bank. They’re there to do their job. They also become friends with some of the clients and it’s become like a family.”
Cole says the food bank serves about 70 adults and children in the Powassan area.
It’s only open on Wednesdays and normally serves about 15 clients on that day.
However, on Dec. 9 the non-profit organization served 27 clients.
“We almost ran out of everything,” Cole says.
“That’s never happened in the years I’ve been here.”
Cole and McCharles believe the approach of Christmas was behind the surge, but it has not repeated.
When the food bank prepares a package for clients, it provides four or five meals per individual in the household.
However, Cole says the package is only a supplement. It’s not there to replace government support systems.
Cole says a typical food bank client can get food from the outlet once a month, further reinforcing the notion that it’s not there for people to acquire food any time they want.
Normally the shopping is done on Tuesdays to get as much fresh food as possible for Wednesday mornings just before the food bank opens its doors at 250 Clark.
McCharles says the clientele is pretty steady in terms of who needs supplemental food.
“We’ve seen a small number of new clients, but some of the others we served in the past we haven’t seen anymore,” McCharles says.
“I feel that’s a good thing because if they’re not coming to us it means they’re probably doing OK and are back on their feet.”
Although both agree that it’s the volunteers who keep the food bank running, Cole points out there would be no food bank without the generosity of Powassan residents.
“Some people donate to us every month and we couldn’t do it without them,” she says.
“There are some people who come in each month and give us cheques for $200 or $400. It helps that we also get government funding. But it’s the community that (financially) keeps us going.”
The food bank has a loyal following on Facebook. And when a shortage occurs, Cole takes to the social media platform.
She recalls one time when the food bank ran out of baby food.
“There was a student with us when this happened and I told them, ‘Watch, we’ll have baby food in no time.’”
Sure enough, Cole posted the shortage on Facebook and within an hour a local resident showed up with baby food.
“It’s just amazing how the community cares and comes through for us when we need it,” Cole says.
Cole also uses Facebook to tell the clients what foods are available for their next visit.
She says the food bank typically spends about $2,500 a month buying fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, bread, milk and non-perishable goods.
The perishable goods are stored in three standup freezers and two refrigerators, while the non-perishable food is kept on row after row of shelves.
Pre-COVID, McCharles says the clients came into the food bank and went down each row selecting what they needed.
“But now they come in with their masks on and we fill out their order,” she says.
“They haven’t seen the back of the food bank in months.”
The food bank also has switched to greeting its clients by appointment only.
A volunteer will call the client and work out a time for when that person can come in to pick up a food order.
In addition to shopping for food, the outlet keeps a Blue Box at 250 Clark where residents can drop off food on weekdays.
Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative, The North Bay Nugget