British Columbia

Food banks in flood-ravaged communities anticipate long-term demand surge

With ongoing flooding and road closures, food banks are anticipating prolonged demand over the coming weeks and months, made all the more challenging by uncertainties surrounding supplies.

Ongoing floods, closed roads, and supply chain disruptions fuel calls for donations in hard-hit communities

Volunteers turned a gymnasium at the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology into a makeshift food bank. (Derlanda Hewton)

Derlanda Hewton and her crew of workers and volunteers at the Nicola Valley Food Bank have gotten used to curve balls over the past three weeks.

The Merritt-based food bank is among properties in the municipality under evacuation order, and has managed to move to multiple locations and keep food on the shelves while it grapples with increased demand and supply constraints amid the catastrophic flooding and landslides event in B.C.

"It was a scary moment for us," said Hewton, who is the general manager of the food bank. "I was contacted by a lot of our clients who needed help, so we opened up a temporary distribution centre."

With ongoing flooding and road closures in the province, the food bank is among many that anticipate prolonged demand over the coming weeks and months, made all the more challenging by uncertainties surrounding supplies.

Emergency response are pictured driving a truck through flooded streets in a residential part of Merritt, B.C., on Monday, Nov. 15, 2021. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Hewton says crews were able to move all their food stock out of their old facility, which so far hasn't been damaged by the flood. In the meantime, she says they're dealing with unprecedented demand as they operate from a makeshift food bank from inside a gymnasium at the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology.

She says they haven't been able to keep track of the numbers, but they're well beyond the 150 households the food bank would see weekly before the floods.

Dozens of people have shown up to volunteer, while people from across the region have arrived with donations. They've also been receiving donations from other food banks in the province, with much of the stock coming in by plane and helicopter.

"I think ... the biggest challenge is trying to find enough space for product," said Hewton. "It has not been finding volunteers. People are coming out to help."

"Another challenge is trying to keep up with specific food items that are going fast. But we are just waiting and crossing our fingers that trucks are coming in, because we have them on order."

Hewton says they are also supplying items like furniture and appliances to people in need. (Derlanda Hewton)

Fraser valley increases

At the Archway Food Bank in Abbotsford, there are about 300 additional households accessing services on top of the usual 3,000 it serves.

"Now with the flooding coming and going back again, and the [highway] being closed, it looks like this is going to be an issue we deal with in the long-run, at least a couple of months, as more people are displaced and repairs begin," said its food justice supervisor, Taelyr Keeley.

Keeley says the food bank has been able to keep food on the shelves, despite losing regular meat, egg, dairy, and produce donations from local farmers — many of whom have had their properties flooded.

"We've had different farmers from Langley, Surrey, even elsewhere in the province bringing things for us that we requested or needed help with, so the future is looking brighter for that," said Keeley.

Keeley says they've also been getting support from other food banks in the region.

Workers at the Salvation Army cook meals for people in need. (Submitted by Don Armstrong)

Road closures remain a concern

On Wednesday, rain-induced road closures spurred more anxiety for isolated communities further east.

"A lot of people don't realise the magnitude of what is going on," said Don Armstrong, emergency disaster coordinator at the Salvation Army in Chilliwack.

"Right now again all the roads are closed to Chilliwack and we're basically in here by ourselves."

During the initial rain event, the Salvation Army was able to get emergency supplies airlifted to Hope, which had seen grocery store shelves emptied and many stranded travellers without food.

Armstrong says he hopes major supply routes will get back online once again. In the meantime, he says local grocery stores and residents have stepped up to keep them stocked for people in need.

"Fortunately the people in the community, they really stick together really well here. The challenge is just trying to get the food where it's needed," he said.

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