Local food banks are collaborating better to share information, prevent unfair usage, and improve efficiency.
Representatives from the United Native Friendship Centre, Fort Frances Salvation Army, and Sunset Country Métis have been meeting regularly and recently decided to communicate more with each other.
They also will be making some minor operational changes to best serve clients.
“What we were finding was that—and it’s not a lot of people—but there was a small clientele that were going from food bank to food bank to food bank,” said Danielle Spuzak, the Homelessness Outreach Worker at the UNFC here.
“So what we wanted to do is just come to terms with how we are going to service this population so that it doesn’t happen anymore.
“When people are double-dipping, they’re taking it away from other people that are needing the services of the food bank,” Spuzak stressed.
Clients at any of the food banks now have to sign a release form which, if necessary, will allow one agency to call another and ask if an individual already has used another one recently.
Both the UNFC and Salvation Army food banks also have changed their hours.
The UNFC food bank now will be closed on Mondays but will continue to be open Tuesday to Friday from 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
This extra day will give Spuzak more time to get other parts of her job done, such as data entry.
Spuzak said she probably has 400 clients in her file, and that the majority specifically are seeing her to access the food bank.
“It’s extremely time-consuming, and there are other areas of my job that the food bank is kind of taking away from, other services I could provide for people,” she noted.
“I tell you it’s busy.”
The UNFC food bank only can be accessed once every 30 days, and specifically serves urban aboriginal clients.
The Salvation Army food bank, meanwhile, now is open Mondays from 10 a.m.-noon and 1-3 p.m.
It used to be open on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
It can be accessed three times a year, plus Christmas.
“The number of new clients applying to our food banks has gone way up so we’re pretty well stretched to the limit,” said Jill Pernsky, community ministries manager for the local Salvation Army.
She noted the Salvation Army serves Rainy River to Atikokan.
“We have had to decide and adapt, and have cut down our regular hours because we want to become more of an emergency food bank,” she added.
But Pernsky said they will continue to take referrals from the DSSAB, CMHA, Community Living, Front Street Manor, and the UNFC, which they will look after immediately no matter what day of the week.
Similarly, the Salvation Army will take referrals from agencies to help families with clothing and household goods in emergencies.
Pernsky is pleased to see the various food banks get together every couple of months and brainstorm to figure out what they’re doing right and what they can improve on.
As for the Sunset Country Métis food bank, it will continue to be open Mondays from 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
It can be accessed once every 30 days.
Charmaine Langlais, community wellness co-ordinator with the Métis Nation of Ontario, and Anne-Marie Armstrong, Métis Healthy Babies Healthy Children co-ordinator, welcomed the new level of collaboration.
Langlais noted that sharing information on a more regular basis will ensure agencies are “on the same page.”
Food banks are for emergencies, stressed Armstrong.
As such, sharing this information “makes sure that those people that are experiencing that emergency will have access to the services that they need.”