Once a week, Carla Canada, store manager of The Shoppe on Lennox Island, travels to Summerside to buy a truckload of food, and then brings it back be assembled into food boxes for community members. But with an increasing need for support, she says she may need to go more often.
The First Nation's food share program has been running for about two years with the help of funding from the Lennox Island Band Office and Health Centre.
"It warms my heart that I am able to help people when they are at their greatest need and to see their faces light up when they kind of get a sneak peek in the bags and stuff," said Canada. "And they're so excited to be able to go home and cook meals for their family,"
Canada said she's noticed that more individuals and families are turning to the program recently because of rising inflation, as well as personal reasons like job losses and unexpected expenses.
"Within this last week, I want to say we've put together at least 30 boxes for community members, which is a huge increase," she said.
"A lot of people have been coming more than before."
Access to healthy food
While they are called food "boxes," the food items are actually loaded into tote bags. People can request what kinds of items they would like to be included.
Canada said normally the bags contain non-perishable items and fresh vegetables grown at the Lennox Island Greenhouse and Gardens. Sometimes if requested, even household items are included.
"It can be anywhere from four to six bags for a family depending on the size, and then that is able to go to them within 20 minutes after they ask," she said.
Jean Bernard, who has diabetes, is a regular participant of the food share program. She said the program has helped her and her grandson have access to healthy food, particularly fresh vegetables.
"It really helps me because there's not a lot of foods I can eat because of the sugar intake," she said.
The program is operated right on Lennox Island, so Bernard and other community members don't have to drive far to receive the boxes.
"That is a real big plus with the price of gas right now," she said.
A typical food box for her household includes items like cereals, milk and eggs and lasts about two weeks, she said. She also likes a "good-size" rump roast, because she can make it go a long way.
"I'd cook it and cool it and then put it in the freezer bags. And whenever I want to have a quick supper, I can just go to the freezer and warm it up on the stove and there's the full supper again," she said.
That's exactly what Carla Canada hopes the program will do: help community members have nutritious meals instead of fast food.
"It's been able to get them to have full meals instead of 99-cent macaroni and that's all they ate because it was the cheapest thing to get. Now they're able to have meats and vegetables and, like, full-course meals essentially and get all of their nutrients in a day," she said.
"It'll help them be able to be a healthier person, so that they can be able to do more stuff instead of feeling sick and groggy from just eating pasta and stuff like that."
Canada said she's starting to see that the weekly trips to buy food in Summerside might not be enough.
There have been weeks when the shelves were so bare that she struggled to put together enough boxes, she said, because of the large and growing number of people in the community needing help with food.
"If we need to go on a second run during the week, then that's what we're going to do," she said.
"We're hoping to be able to accommodate a larger amount of people and be able to be available to more people within the community as well as outside the community."