By Emily Sawchyn
COVID-19 hit everyone in a multitude of life-changing ways, and Food Banks have been working harder than ever to keep communities together. Between February and June 2020, unemployment in Nova Scotia grew from 7.8% to 13%. Many people in need are visiting the Food Bank for the first time. At the same time, fear of the virus has kept others at home.
Darlene Myers is the managing director of the Musquodoboit Harbour Food Bank. In a recent interview, she told us COVID-19 pandemic forced them to make changes to provide for adequate social distancing. “Keeping our clients safe is our top priority,” Myers said. “After the lockdown started, we were open, but people couldn’t enter. We set up a table outside where volunteers took clients’ lists and retrieved their items for them.”
With the loosening of regulations this fall, clients can now come into the facility wearing masks and using the hand sanitizers on the counter. “We disinfect the counters after very client,” Myers said, “and our volunteers don’t touch the clients’ bags. And some items, produce, we still handle outside for efficiency.”
The Food Bank relies on the continued support of the community. “In the early days of COVID, the community really stepped up,” Myers said. “We were even able to hand out gift cards to those who needed them most. We owe a big thank you to many.”
Feed Nova Scotia representative Karen Theriault adds that gift cards were a better option earlier this year for a reason. “While food donations decreased, monetary donations increased, as food drives were cancelled and it was easier to donate online. While there are many reasons clients may not come in person, such as physical mobility, mental health, or lack of transportation, COVID highlighted these barriers as we had to come up with immediate solutions, like call-in appointments.”
“Feed Nova Scotia has created a home delivery program. If, for whatever reason, you are unable to get to a location in person, you can simply call 211 and ask about the food box program, which delivers every two weeks.” While this solution is planned for short-term, it’s still up and going now.
As Christmas approaches, Myers said the Food Bank needs more support than ever. “Cash donations help the most so we can fill our orders ourselves. But we’re happy to get donations of unexpired goods that people need the most, like canned milk, meats, soups, fruit, condiments, coffee, and school snacks.”
Theriault points out that there was a decline in Feed Nova Scotia visits over the year, but that demand varies across rural communities. “Across the board of provincial food banks, we’ve seen a decline in demand, but some have also seen increases. It depends on each community’s level of support and resources. Schools and community “caremongering” groups on Facebook have contributed the most. Thanks is due to the commitment and resilience of the volunteers and government social programs.”
“Everyone needs a little help sometimes,” said Theriault.
The Food Bank accepts donations whenever they are open. Myers adds that she updates the active Facebook Group often if anyone needs to reach them.
Myers is grateful for everyone’s hard work this year. “Community support is the only way we can stay open and operate. Without them, we wouldn't last very long.”
Feed Nova Scotia has 144 members, including several food banks across the Eastern Shore, including Lake Echo Community Food Bank, East Chezzetcook Marine Communities Food Bank, and Sheet Harbour Rainbow Food Bank. Call 211 for more information about the nearest Food Bank.