Where almost the entire world has stopped in its tracks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the food bank, operated by LINK, Lakes District Family Enhancement Society, has been working tirelessly, despite the rumours of its closure in the initial days of the pandemic. Not only was the food bank tasked with having to change its protocols to align with the social distancing guidelines, but they also had to work hard to dispel those rumours. Since then, the food bank has gotten busier.
“In some of our mobile food centres, which is our food bank on wheels that goes out to the more remote parts of our community, we are seeing a 60 per cent increase in terms of the people we are serving and at the static food centre, about a 32 per cent increase based on the stats from last week”, informed Candice Little, LINK Manager.
But the road to serving the community, especially during a crisis of this magnitude, has not been easy for the food bank. Some of its projects, like the mobile food centre, have never been part of any funding programs. At one point it even looked like they would have to shut down the mobile food centre. However, as the COVID situation started to unfold, Little said they knew they had to get the food out there and so they continued doing that, hoping for some emergency funding to come through at some stage.
And, it has.
LINK, which is part of The Good Food Organizations program under Community Food Centres Canada, received $40,000 from them, as part of the federal funding. Little believes that this will definitely help the food bank, at least for the next two months.
Earlier this week, the food bank also received confirmation that they would get $25,000 from Food Banks B.C., as part of the emergency provincial grant of $3 million from the gaming revenues collections, that was announced mid-March, by the province. The food bank is also set to receive $10,000 from United Way of Northern BC. This funding is part of the $100,000 donation that Coastal Gas Link made to United Way of Northern BC, to support the communities and food banks along the pipeline route.
Apart from these funds, Little says that several local individuals and agents have been contributing and donating directly to the food bank, including the Bulkley Valley Credit Union and Pacific Northern Gas.
She also points out that in addition to the funding, the local community’s support has been invaluable in making the food bank’s efforts a success. The COVID-19 Community Committee which was formed in the early days of the crisis, has provided a lot of support. Before the social distancing measures were put in place, the food bank would distribute through a shopping model where clients could choose their own food just like in a grocery store. However now, they are distributing four different sizes of hampers, with double the amount of food in each one to encourage people to stay home longer while still having access to food supports. The volunteers who are part of the committee are helping the food bank put together these hampers.
“Twice a week, we are putting together 85 hampers and that’s been a really huge help as it’s a job that we don’t normally do”, said Little. The volunteers are also delivering these hampers to people who are unable to leave their homes due to self-isolation or quarantine or for those who just don’t have access to transportation.
Little believes that another form of potential support for the food bank would be the LINK garden and greenhouse, which was started two years ago. Tracey Payne, the LINK Garden and Greenhouse coordinator who has already started planting seeds in her personal greenhouse to get a jump start on the plantations, will get the starter plants ready to later move to the LINK garden. However, though Payne believes the garden is a great asset, she also thinks that it is not nearly large enough to sustain the distribution through the food bank.
“All we can do is just sort of supplement the food bank and maybe give people a little better access to fresh vegetables for the months of July, August and September,” said Payne.
Payne also voiced her concerns over the aftermath of the crisis believing that once the emergency funding would go away, a lot of people would still be left struggling to put their lives back together again.
Little holds similar views and looks at the crisis as more than just a current problem. “When this crisis is over, is when we are going to see continued need at the food centre and no longer have those supports available to us. I just want to make sure that everybody understands that as with any crisis, the follow up with this is going to be long-term and long-reaching, and we need to recognize that we will be going out to our community and to our corporate sponsors and donors in the coming months,” says Little.