FERGUS – Seven weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic, Fred Aleksandrowicz finds himself saying things he can hardly remember saying before: the cupboards are well-stocked and no, we don’t need any volunteers.
“I do remember a time when we had more food than usual, but nothing like this,” the Centre Wellington Food Bank manager told the Advertiser on April 24.
The cupboards are full and there’s plenty of fresh produce, he said, adding the food recovery program has really boosted the quantity and quality of food on hand.
That program connects with big grocery stores that often have food at the end of the day that’s still good to eat, but not food they can sell.
“It’s damaged packaging or cracked eggs – things that are not selling,” Aleksandrowicz said.
He said his food bank has 3,000 pounds of steaks and roasts in its freezer thanks to the program. And farmers are regularly donating produce for which they don’t currently have markets.
Demand is up five or 10 per cent since lockdown measures began in March, Aleksandrowicz said, and that’s manageable right now.
He’s worried, though, that people who are newly unemployed and struggling to feed their families, might not think the food bank is for them.
But there’s no shame or judgement, he said, adding he’s more worried about people needing assistance and not reaching out than seeing an increase in clients. To ease that barrier, first-time clients can come, shop and take their food home, and fill out the paperwork at their second visit.
“We don’t turn anyone down,” he said. The Centre Wellington Food Bank operates like a grocery store in that clients can shop for themselves. With COVID-19 they are asked to make an appointment and only one client at a time is allowed inside the facility.
The food bank is also offering deliveries.
Food banks in Rockwood and Erin are telling a similar story.
“People are stopping by left, right and centre with donations,” said Kari Simpson, CEO of East Wellington Community Services (EWCS), the umbrella organization that oversees the food banks serving Erin and Guelph-Eramosa.
“We’re receiving weekly donations of fresh fruit and vegetables. It’s not normal for us, but it’s so good to be able to have balanced, nutritious food in the hampers.”
Simpson said prior to COVID-19 EWCS was seeing 60 people a month between the two food bank locations. After emergency measures took hold “we were up to 90 in a couple of weeks,” she said.
“Now we have people who have never used us before, and people who would come occasionally are coming regularly again.”
Simpson said EWCS is offering delivery of pre-packaged hampers for clients – but no in-person pickup. The food bank can also deliver prescriptions, she said.
In fact, some requests the organization receives have more to do with delivery service than food, she said.
“One woman called us because she was in quarantine and couldn’t get out of the house,” Simpson said.
“We got [their] food [from the grocery store] and prescriptions and delivered them the same day. They were shocked and relieved.
“Another elderly gentleman called because he lives out of town and doesn’t drive and had no way to get to a store. His family couldn’t get to him and he had been three weeks without food.”
Simpson said EWCS is still seeking food and financial donations. They can be left at the front door of the Erin office.
The office is staffed during the day, so donors should knock and the donation will be retrieved. Cheques can be left in the locked mailbox at the door.
Simpson said EWCS has partnered with United Way to develop a program to make pre-made meals for seniors.
She noted she hates turning volunteers away, but the organization just can’t have volunteers involved in any programs right now.
“We’ve seen the best in people,” she said.
The Drayton Food Bank, which serves Mapleton Township, is in good shape too, says volunteer Tracey Kabbes.
“The shelves are full right now and we have money in the bank,” she said. And she hasn’t noticed an increase in calls, “but that could change tomorrow. You just don’t know with this thing.”
Kabbes said the food bank delivered 23 hampers at Easter and that has lasted their clients almost a month.
“I have a feeling in the next two weeks, the calls will start trickling in,” she said.
Kabbes said cash donations by e-transfer are ideal right now if people want to donate.
“Then we can go buy anything we don’t have. It’s just easier, given the times.”
Food banks in Minto are all reporting they are in good shape at this point.
“We haven’t had a big influx yet,” said Harriston Food Bank representative Dave Mallett.
“I’m thinking it’s because most of the people are still working and I guess the ones that haven’t been working are getting unemployment.”
Mallett said the Harriston facility is currently well stocked.
“We’ve had tons of donations,” he said.
However, Mallett said he anticipates demand could increase in the coming weeks.
“I’m kind of certain there will be more usage because there’s lots of people that are running these little businesses that aren’t being able to do anything, and there’s lots of people working for them that aren’t being able to do anything,” he said.
“So eventually, I do believe that they’re going to be looking for some more help.”
For those wanting to give, Mallett said cash donations are needed to allow the food bank to purchase items that aren’t typically donated.
“We’ve had a lot of support from different organizations and from private individuals. It’s been amazing,” said Mallett, who noted people are becoming very creative in their food and fundraising drives.
“They did a drive-by anniversary last week for (Minto residents) Anne and Earl Schneider … and people donated food for the food bank,” he explained.
“We had a young girl come in yesterday with a cheque for the food banks in Harriston, Palmerston and Clifford, and she had basically done a fundraiser online. Pretty amazing,” Mallett added.
Clifford Food Bank coordinator Bruce Shannon said there has not been a spike in demand so far.
“We’re surprised. We’ve been expecting it, but it hasn’t happened. It’s been pretty constant with the same people we’ve had every month,” he said.
“We’ve been expecting new customers and we haven’t had them yet.”
Shannon said donations have increased since pandemic restrictions began in mid-March.
“Donations are definitely up. We’ve been really well taken care of that way … we’re in pretty good shape,” he said.
Shannon said it’s a positive sign that new clients aren’t appearing, “unless it means that people don’t know how to contact us.”
To contact the Clifford Food Bank clients should call 519-327-8588.
While the food bank is currently well-supplied, Shannon said there is ongoing need for certain types of donations.
“Cash is good. We can always use that to buy what we need. But if somebody wants to donate product, personal hygiene products – toilet paper, Kleenex, shampoo, conditioner, laundry detergent – that’s the kind of stuff we always run short of.”
Barb Burrows of the Palmerston Food Bank said donations have been “through the ceiling,” since the pandemic impact began to be felt.
She said the food bank has received a high volume of donations from individuals and businesses and the anticipated increase in demand has not occurred to this point.
However, she noted, some food bank operators have been advised to “expect a second wave.”
“If it’s not happening right now it could be happening in the summer or fall, just depending how long term everything is,” said Burrows.
She added she is hoping potential donors will keep checking in with the food bank in the weeks to come.
“I’m hoping people will contact us later, because right now Ron at Foodland has been fantastic,” and other local businesses have also been contributing.
“Were getting thousand-dollar, five-hundred-dollar cheques. It’s been fantastic.”
This past week, Burrows noted, offers of help actually out-paced requests for hampers on the food bank phone line.
“In two months, we might be desperate. But right now, we are very, very well positioned,” she stated.
“We are blessed. We are in a wonderful caring, sharing community.”
The Arthur Food Bank is currently accepting only monetary donations.
“To keep our clients safe during COVID-19 we are not accepting food donations” the organization states.
Monetary donations can be mailed or sent by email transfer.
To e-transfer use “Arthur Food Bank” as the recipient and send to firstname.lastname@example.org. To receive a tax receipt donors should send a separate email with their name and address in the body of the email and “e-transfer” in the subject line.
New clients are welcome to register via email at email@example.com. Clients should put “register” in the subject line.
Marg Rapp, a volunteer at the Mount Forest Community Pantry, said in early March they had 35 to 40 clients.
That number rose later in the month after emergency measures took place.
The tail end of March, “was very busy, with about 75 deliveries. April hasn’t been busy yet, but it’s not over yet either,” she said.
Rapp said the shelves are well-stocked and the community has been “amazing.”
The community pantry can now take financial donations by e-transfer, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We have our whole team working, so at the moment, we are not soliciting volunteers. But we have started a waiting list because we don’t know what will happen.
“But what we really want people to know is if they need help, they should be calling us.”