East Coast food banks find a way to keep their cool

Canada’s local food banks have proved instrumental in supporting our most vulnerable when they need it most. Winter is here, and the need is greater than ever. To shine a light on their efforts, we will be featuring some local food banks across the country and telling their stories.

Glace Bay Food Bank Society

Inside the walk-in cooler at the Glace Bay Food Bank Society. (photo provided by the Glace Bay Food Bank Society)

Michelle Kalbhenn is the Glace Bay Food Bank Society’s coordinator. Prior to 2018, she had never even thought about working at a food bank. Following a work placement, she found her calling and now has the difficult but rewarding job of managing the entire day-to-day operations.

The Glace Bay Food Bank Society supports the eastern part of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality in Nova Scotia. On weekday mornings, it serves hot meals to about 1,500 community members each month in the Glace Bay, Dominion, Reserve Mines and Louisburg communities. Its work is part of a unified local effort: throughout the year, the organization receives weekly donations from Feed Nova Scotia, while two local farms donate more than 100 pounds of fresh vegetables and meat products each month in the summer. Michelle and her volunteers also maintain a garden and greenhouse on the property to grow a variety of fruits and vegetables including strawberries, raspberries, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, beans and much more.

This overwhelming local generosity left Michelle with an interesting problem for a food bank: too much food! The facility’s existing four fridges and two freezers were bursting at the seams. She even began storing extra fresh food in the basement of the food bank while the air conditioner ran day and night, year-round. "I can’t bear to turn people away, because the more food we can store, the more I can give", Michelle explained.

Michelle submitted an application to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada‘s Local Food Infrastructure Fund which she was aware could help in this type of situation, as it aims to strengthen food support organizations and improve access to safe and nutritious food for Canadians. Her application was accepted and, together with additional support from Feed Nova Scotia, Michelle purchased and installed a large walk-in cooler and several large chest freezers.

Michelle has already put the walk-in cooler to good use by stockpiling food donations, with the help of dedicated volunteers. As COVID-19 challenges continue into the longer-term, Michelle anticipates that the food package program will soon serve fresh and local food to more than 400 families per month.

"Now we won’t feel pressed to give away fresh meat and vegetables in one day", Michelle says. "We can make sure each of our clients get their fair share of fresh, healthy and local food."

West Side Food Bank

Eighty-three-year-old Harry Cross is a dedicated volunteer at the West Side Food Bank. Even during COVID-19, he continues to help the West Side Food Bank while bringing holiday cheer to the organization. (Photo provided by Shelley Scott)

Over in Saint John, New Brunswick, the crew at the West Side Food Bank are keeping their vital operations open during COVID-19 with safety measures in place.

In spite of the pandemic, one unfortunate reality has stayed on: hunger is hard to drive out of a community, and poverty rates in Saint John are high.

In 2019, volunteers at the West Side Food Bank provided food to more than 8,000 people; over 3,000 of them were children under 18 years old, and many other clients were senior citizens. Fast forward to 2020, and, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, volunteers are carrying out their work while outfitted with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Clients place their order through a Plexiglass barrier. The number of clients allowed inside is limited to one person or family at a time. This helps protect dedicated volunteers like Harry Cross, who is 83 years old.

"It’s a wonderful feeling to know we can help families celebrate the holidays, especially in a year where there has been so much hardship", reflects West Side president Shelley Scott. In her 15 years with the organization, Shelley ranks 2020 as a standout year.

A new walk-in freezer has helped to keep local families fed in a difficult year for many. Like at Glace Bay, this industrial-grade appliance was purchased with help from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Local Food Infrastructure Fund at the tail end of 2019.

It’s a step up from their old setup. "Prior to getting this freezer, we only had 14 small freezers, so we were very limited in terms of being able to store fresh produce and perishables for our clients", Shelley explains.

"Sometimes when people think of food banks, they think of donated cereal or other non-perishables", Shelley continues. "Now with the freezer, we still have room to spare!"

The West Side Food Bank is looking forward to ending the year on a high note. "I cannot tell you what a wonderful feeling it is to know that we will be able to provide families with hearty holiday food", Shelley beams.

"That’s a very bright spot after a hard year."

To make a donation to your local food bank, please visit Food Banks Canada.

More details on the Local Food Infrastructure Fund Program.


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