Working poor the majority of food bank users in Walkerton

WALKERTON – The working poor – people with jobs, who “just can’t keep up” are the people who are now coming to the Walkerton and District Food Bank, according to food bank treasurer Maryanne Buehlow.

Some of them are seniors – and a surprising number of those seniors are raising their grandchildren. They might be OK on fixed incomes with only themselves to care for, but they have taken on the task of doing the best they can for the children in their lives. And that means seeking assistance from the local food bank.

They are visiting the food bank in substantial numbers, said Buehlow. She explained that unlike cities that saw large numbers of new people visiting food banks during COVID, this area and others in rural Ontario actually saw a drop in food bank use. However, at present the local food bank is up by 150 users over last year, and Buehlow estimates that by year’s end, numbers will be back up to pre-pandemic levels.

She herself is well aware that grocery prices have been climbing, along with fuel and housing costs. Food price increases are a result of a lot of factors, including flooding in some parts of the world from which produce is imported. And of course, there is the cost of transportation.

The result is a steadily growing number of people visiting the local food bank – not huge numbers of people, as is the case in cities, but two or three more each week.

Fortunately, the support for the local food bank has never wavered in the nearly 43 years it has been in operation. Buehlow said the food bank has never had to hold a major fundraiser, and has a steady group of about 40 volunteers and no paid staff.

The Walkerton and District Food Bank is part of the CKNX food drive, as it has been for the past few years.

“It’s a great way to get donations,” Buehlow said.

The area’s three grocery stores – the Independent and Foodland in Walkerton, and Freshmart in Mildmay – provide shoppers with the opportunity to “buy” bags of selected food items to donate. The food items are exactly what the food bank requires, because Buehlow provides the stores with a list of needed items.

And of course, volunteers with the Walkerton Fire Department will be collecting donations of non-perishable food items during Saturday night’s Santa Claus parade.

Anyone considering making a donation to the food bank at this busy time of year, when the food bank serves not only regular users but prepares Christmas hampers, should consider cash or a cheque – this enables food bank volunteers to purchase items that are needed, as well as fresh food.

Buehlow provided a list of items the food bank is short of at present: jam, peanut butter, macaroni, crackers, rice, canned fruit and good school snacks. Non-food items are also needed: shampoo and facial tissue.

Donations may be dropped off at the food bank on Thursdays 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., or call 519-881-0168 and leave a message to arrange another day and time.

Those in need may call ahead to arrange an appointment, or may visit the food bank Thursday afternoon on a first-come, first-served basis.

Buehlow said the appointment system started during the pandemic, and it worked so well, the food bank continues using it.

The regular food bank volunteers get a welcome helping hand from the Optimist Club at Christmas. Buehlow said the Optimists have taken on the responsibility of providing gifts for children 16 and under. As with everything else involving the food bank, the utmost care is taken to protect confidentiality. The Optimists get a list with details but no names.

“They’ve done this for a few years,” Buehlow said. “It’s wonderful.”

She noted the government doesn’t support food banks financially. Fortunately, the community does, in so many ways – donations of goods, cash and best of all, time.

Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times