Food banks in need of help

Megan Walchuk

Fort Frances’ Food Banks are bracing for a rough few weeks, as they watch their shelves slowly empty.

“We’ve seen a dramatic increase in Food Bank usage,” said Arthour Heathcote, Corps officer for the Salvation Army. “I’d say 80 percent of the people we’ve seen are new people – people we’ve never seen before.”

The increased demand has spurred the organization to increase the Food Bank hours from 4 hours to 30 hours per week, with door open by appointment only between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday.

“As pay cheques run out, we’re expecting to see it increase more over the next couple of weeks,” he added.

The bulk of the clientele Heathcote has seen are families and seniors, he noted. Although they’re doing their best to service everyone, the spike in usage has forced them to tightly ration some supplies.

The United Native Friendship Centre has seen a similar spike in numbers, according to Executive Director Sheila McMahon. Compounding their worries is a lack of food from wholesalers. The UNFC uses cash donations to buy at discount wholesale rates, to have as much food available, for minimal cost. But since COVID-19 hit, distributors have been short on supplies, and most orders are on back-order.

“We’re worried,” she said. “Tins of tuna and chicken – we buy by the case, and are having trouble finding things. We can’t find peanut butter anywhere. We’re trying to find a healthy alternative out there.”

Because the organization is buying from the same locations as local grocery stores, McMahon is wary of being too competitive with food supplies.

“We don’t want to deplete the grocery stores. They need food where it belongs – available to the community,” she said. But it may drive them to look outside the region to find new sources of affordable food to keep shelves stocked.

“We’re looking into maybe Manitoba,” said McMahon, whose staff is bracing for a sharp increase in use over the next few weeks.

“We’ve already seen a decrease on our shelves. These next couple of weeks are going to be hard,” she said. “There are families that need help, that aren’t working anymore. Our food bank serves the whole community, and we’re trying to support everyone that we can.”

Both organizations have altered operations to increase worker safety in light of COVID-19. The Salvation Army has gone to an appointment-only model, to limit the number of clients in the facility at a given time. Staff have been pulled form the closed Thrift Store, to allow for the extra opening hours. Staff are using masks and gloves, and are practicing increased sanitation of the site. The UNFC is pre-packing bags, in single and family sizes, which are passed out at the door. A delivery service for the elderly and those unable to leave their homes has also been established, with staff passing bags at doorsteps, to minimize contact. The UNFC is closed to the public at this time, but the Food Bank is operating Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 11 -2

Both food banks are in urgent need of food and monetary donations to carry them through. The Salvation Army is in particular need of personal care, hygeine and feminine hygeine items, said Heathcote. The UNFC is in need of canned goods and peanut butter. Cash donations are always welcome, and are used to buy fresh and perishable items as well as wholesale priced goods.

To make a donation to the UNFC, call 274-8541 to arrange a time. Donations to the Salvation Army can be arranged by calling 274-3871.