Kanesatake food bank off to strong start

When the community gathered to celebrate the completion of a landmark study of Kanesatake nutrition last year, one aspect of the report was already out of date – the cost of groceries.

The initial report arising from the Kanesatake portion of the Food, Environment, Health, and Nutrition of First Nations Children and Youth (FEHNCY) study, which is taking an in-depth look at health factors in many Indigenous communities across Canada, suggested $300 a week can feed a local family of four.

“How much meat is in that grocery of $300? How many vegetables? Everything went up so much,” said FEHNCY community engagement liaison Tess Lalonde. “It wasn’t realistic what the results were, once they came out with it, but it was from 2022.”

The skyrocketing cost of groceries has stretched family budgets in recent months and years, sometimes past the breaking point. So the news that a food bank operated by the Kanesatake Health Center (KHC) has finally relaunched in the community building could not come soon enough.

“I think it’s good,” said Lalonde, who noted the importance of other food security measures, such as local gardens. “There are a lot of people who are in need – the non-workers, the elders, a lot of people need that food bank.”

The facility comes after long delays, with the KHC citing the discovery of inadequate ventilation for the refrigerator in a postponement announced last summer. But on April 4, with the assistance of volunteers, the long-awaited facility opened its doors.

“The issues are resolved, and it took an important investment both financially and in terms of human resources to ensure it would be rectified,” said Teiawenhniseráhte Tomlinson, KHC’s executive director. “We made it happen because we recognize the need and social value in such an initiative.”

Registration is required for use of the food bank. As of last week, there were 40 families signed up. A low income is the main criterion for registration, but Tomlinson said anyone who is struggling to make ends meet should call to enquire.

“Eating is an essential need. It shouldn’t be a decision people have to make,” said Tomlinson, noting that the cost of living is rising faster than incomes. “From a social and physical health perspective, nutrition is a significant determinant of health, so it’s important for us to try and offer help how we can within our mandate.”

The health centre is exploring relationships with grocery stores and local producers that could provide donations. Funding for the project comes in part from the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador Health and Social Services Commission (FNQLHSSC), with the rest coming from existing resources.

In addition to KHC staff, the food bank is relying on volunteers to operate the service.

“We had a great time last week,” said Kanehsata’kehró:non Elaine Daye, who volunteers Thursdays to help with distribution.

“I think it’s easy to donate money, but it means more when you donate your time,” she said. “This project is desperately needed here in the community, with the cost of food almost doubling since COVID-19. Some people are barely making ends meet, so this project will surely help.”

She feels it is much better organized than it has been in the past, making the service easier and more pleasant.

While she is not personally accessing the resource, she believes people should not hesitate to do so if they are struggling.

“If ever my circumstances changed and I needed it, I definitely would take advantage of it, but for now I’m fine,” she said.

Those interested in registering for the service or volunteering should call KHC’s community health representative, Michelle Béland, at 450-479-6000, ext. 292.

marcus@easterndoor.com

Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door