WELLINGTON COUNTY – In eight food banks across the county, volunteers prepare for the holidays by stocking shelves, fridges and freezers with donated food.
These food banks provide an essential service for a growing number of people in need.
The Advertiser interviewed representatives from each Wellington County food bank and volunteers solemnly reported that need continues to increase.
And it’s not just Wellington County – Food Banks Canada reports a 39 per cent increase of food bank clients since last year.
The Centre Wellington Food Bank (CWFB) currently supports more than 250 households, compared to 167 last year.
The East Wellington Community Services (EWCS) food bank, which serves Erin and Guelph/Eramosa, has seen a 30% increase since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, said manager Stephanie Conway, with its number of regular clients now up to 236.
Conway said inflation is a big part of the problem – “You go in and spend $50 at the grocery store … it’s not going very far. A dollar is just not stretching like it used to.”
Inflation has also led to decreased donations, Conway said.
“Everything is going up in price, other than income,” said CWFB president Jackie Andrews.
Officials said its becoming more common for full-time workers to depend on food banks to make ends meet, as well as single parents, seniors on fixed incomes and homeowners locked into mortgages with increased interest rates.
And newer clients include people who used to make regular donations to the food bank, Conway said.
“Wages aren’t keeping up with the cost of living,” said CWFB volunteer Marilyn Vaux.
“It’s pretty darn sad,” said Palmerston Community Food Bank co-chair Deanna Martin during an interview at the recently renovated food bank.
Martin said food bank usage goes up at certain times of year, including November when temperatures drop and utilities increase.
Many food bank clients are single people receiving assistance through Ontario Works or the Ontario Disability Support Program, Martin said, which is not enough to pay for rent, utilities and food.
Wellington County food banks also support refugees from Ukraine and Syria.
“They’ve given up everything they can,” Martin said, with some food bank clients selling assets like the car they drive to work in.
“Poverty is kind of invisible in small towns,” Martin noted, where there is “so much humiliation wrapped up in food banks.”
The Palmerston Food Bank is intentionally “off the beaten path,” where people are able to go in and out without being seen.
The Harriston Food Bank currently supports about 60 households, compared to 53 at this time last year.
Harriston Food Bank coordinator Bonne Noble said officials there also saw a temporary increase recently when a group of Ukrainian families moved into the area, but the adults in those families have now secured work and are no longer needing assistance.
Clifford Food Bank chairman Don Senek said “Like all food banks, we have seen a definite increase of requests for food from the same period last year.”
The Mount Forest Community Pantry (MFCP) serves between 170 and 190 people currently – that’s “50 new clients this year,” said chair Donna Leach.
In Arthur, demand has doubled in the last two years, said food bank president Annette Brunkard – and demand continues to grow.
The Drayton Food Bank assists between 25 and 30 households monthly – a 10% increase since last year, said coordinator Bryan Timmerman.
Monetary donations are essential to food banks.
Volunteers use donations to purchase non-perishables such as fresh produce, eggs, dairy and meat. They replenish the most in-demand items and take advantage of bulk sales.
And “it really does make you feel good to donate,” Martin said.
Wellington County food banks provide tax receipts for donations of more than $25.
Leach said MFCP is managing to keep its shelves stocked despite the increased demand thanks to the generosity of the local community.
“People have really stepped up to the plate,” she said.
Food and hygiene items can also be donated, and the Advertiser asked what items are most needed.
Needed donations include:
- kids’ snacks such as granola bars, juice boxes, crackers, cookies and puddings;
- baking supplies, including cake mixes, flour, oil and sugar;
- pasta and pasta sauce, macaroni and cheese;
- instant rice;
- coffee and tea;
- cereal, jam and peanut butter;
- meal extenders such as hamburger helper;
- canned soups, vegetables, fruit, tuna, salmon, and chicken;
- hygiene items such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner and deodorant; and
- cleaning products such as laundry and dish soap.
Some food banks accept perishable items including: fresh food with long shelf-life such as apples, carrots and oranges; milk, cheese, yogurt and butter; and fresh or frozen meat.
However, not all locations can receive these items, so call ahead before donating.
It’s important to check expiry dates on all donated food items as food banks cannot distribute expired food.
Where to drop off:
- Fergus: 105 Queen St. W. (CWFB, Tuesday and Thursday 9am to 4pm, Wednesday 12 to 7pm);
- Erin: 45 Main St. (EWCS office);
- Rockwood: 143 Dennis St. (EWCS office);
- Arthur: 146 George St. (Arthur Food Bank);
- Mount Forest: 121 Main St. (Foodland);
- Palmerston: 150 Main St. (Foodland);
- Clifford: 11 Allan St. E. (Knox United Church, call first);
- Drayton: 74 Wellington St. S. (Drayton Reformed Church); and
- Harriston: 68 Elora St. S. (Harriston Food Bank, call first).
All the food bank representatives expressed appreciation for their local communities, and explained that without that generosity, running a food bank would be impossible.
Wellington County food banks also depend on hundreds of volunteers.
The Harriston Food Bank is seeking a volunteer shopper to pick up items needed for monthly hampers, and requests people call to inquire if interested in donating their time.
Food banks often offer special hampers during the holiday season, to enable people to cook a holiday meal and give gifts to children.
Most holiday hampers have transitioned to providing gift cards instead of toys, as this enables parents to pick presents they know their children will enjoy.
Food banks received feedback that this transition is welcomed by recipients and donors.
Conway said many EWCS clients “are just terrified they won’t be able to afford gifts for the children,” and food banks help empower parents to make the holiday season feel magical for their kids.
Gift card donations for EWCS Christmas hampers are due by Dec. 8, “to give families time to plan for the holidays.”
The Arthur Lions Club organizes Christmas hampers there – with support from the food bank as needed.
Mount Forest Christmas hampers are organized by a separate group supported by food bank as needed, led by Shelly Weber and Daphne Rapplard.
The Palmerston food bank is accepting gift cards from Subway, Foodland, Tim Hortons, and other local businesses for its Christmas Hampers. The deadline for Palmerston Christmas hamper donations is Dec. 12, but donations for regular hampers are welcomed year-round.
“After the holiday season, many of our supplies get depleted so food donations continue to be necessary,” Senek noted.
Harriston Food Bank Christmas hampers are put together by the Harriston Kinsmen and include eggs and breakfast sausage for a special breakfast; ingredients to make a Christmas dinner; and a gift for children under 13.
Food bank volunteers assure there’s no need to feel ashamed of needing assistance – they are happy to help, and they “try to make it as comfortable an experience as possible,” Andrews said.
“It’s hard to walk through that door and say ‘I need help.’”
Some of the food banks can deliver food hampers for clients without access to transportation.
Food banks in Wellington County do not ask new clients to prove their income.
While some ask questions about household income and expenses, this is not to determine eligibility.
Food bank volunteers explained how difficult it is for people to reach out for help in times of need, and assured that anyone requesting assistance will not be turned away (though if they contact a food bank out of town they will be directed to the most-local food bank).
“It’s not our place to judge,” Martin said.
Vaux said it is a “humbling experience for families to ask for extra help.”
“They are so caring,” she said of CWFB clients, noting they often leave items behind in case someone else might want it. “They don’t want to take more than they need.”
“They don’t want to deprive someone else because they’ve experienced deprivation in some capacity,” Andrews added.
To contact a local food bank to make a donation or apply for assistance:
- call the CWFB at 519-787-140; email firstname.lastname@example.org; visit canadahelps.org/en/charities/centre-wellington-food-bank/; or mail cheque to 105 Queen St. W.;
- call or text EWCS at 519-833-9696 (Erin) or 519-856-2113 (Rockwood), visit eastwellingtoncommunityservices.com/donate/ or send etransfer to email@example.com;
- call the Arthur Food Bank at 519-848-3272, email or send etransfer to firstname.lastname@example.org, mail cheque to General Delivery Arthur, N0G 1A0, or visit the Wellington County Learning Centre at 148 Geroge St.;
- email the Drayton Food Bank at email@example.com (by Dec. 1 to request Christmas Hamper);
- call the MFCP at 519-323-9218;
- call the Palmerston Food Bank at 519-417-4774 (call by 9pm Wednesday for Thursday hampers; call by Dec. 1 to request Christmas Hamper), send etransers to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail cheque to 215 William St., Unit 2;
- call the Harriston Food Bank at 519-510-3663; or
- call the Clifford Food Bank at 519-327-8588 (to request assistance leave a clear voicemail with name, address, phone number, size of family, and details of food allergies and dietary restrictions; call by 6:30pm Tuesday to receive hamper on Thursday; call by Dec. 9 to request Christmas hamper).
Food banks have limited hours – leave a message if no one answers the phone and someone will return the call when possible.
To receive charitable tax receipts for donations to the Palmerston, Harriston and Clifford food banks, make cheques out the to Town of Minto and note in memo which food bank it’s for.