Food bank launches pandemic plan to get supplies to people in need

The Food Bank of Waterloo Region is implementing a pandemic contingency plan it developed more than a decade ago. The plan reduces the number of agencies providing food for people in need but will continue to ensure people in need get food.

‘We cannot work from home. We are in the building, moving food products every day,’ CEO says

Wendi Campbell is the CEO of The Food Bank of Waterloo Region. She says they've implemented a contingency plan to make sure they're still getting food out to people in the region who need it. (Submitted by Jennifer Judges/Food Bank of Waterloo Region)

The Food Bank of Waterloo Region continues to work to get food to people who need it during the COVID-19 crisis.

Food bank CEO Wendi Campbell says they've sent some staff home, and they've seen a drop in volunteers, but they're working with a group of providers to get food out into the community.

"The food bank does not have an option to close right now," Campbell said. "We cannot work from home. We are in the building, moving food products every day."

Campbell says the food bank came up with a contingency plan in the case of a pandemic 12 years ago while work-shopping ideas with the region.

They took into account that churches and community centres where many of their programs are run would be closed.

During normal operation, the food bank works with about 100 service providers. Right now, as part of the pandemic plan, they're working with 30 groups. People are being directed to those providers and can find a list on the food bank's website.

"We want to make sure that only the largest capacity service providers are staying open but they have the capacity to do a little bit more," she said.

Take-away lunches for homeless

The Cambridge Self-Help Food Bank has also made changes to the way people access food. Normally, people can go through the food bank and "shop" for items.

Dianne McLeod, interim executive director of the Cambridge Self-Help Food Bank, says now they're offering pre-packed hampers that people in need can pick up once a week.

They are also offering take-away lunches for people who are homeless.

"We are receiving generous support from our community, and we are purchasing food as needed to keep up with the increased demand. We expect that we will see more people needing our services due to layoffs," McLeod said.

She said some items are in short supply, such as peanut butter, rice and canned fish and meat.

"Our food bank was just getting ready to launch into our Spring Food Drive, which is the food we need to keep food available throughout the summer months. In light of the increased demand we will need our community's support now more than ever," McLeod said.

Demand for food will grow

There are hundreds of people in the region who need emergency food every day. Campbell says currently, the demand for food is what the food bank saw last year. 

"With the added pressures and the added worries and the self-isolation that's happening right now, we're anticipating that those numbers are going to start to go up and we need to be prepared as a food assistance network to make sure that we can continue meeting those needs," she said.

The food bank has enough food to distribute to the network, but Campbell says food or financial donations will be used quickly.

She said the phone at the food bank has been "ringing off the hook," and people have been dropping donations in secure bins at the food bank's warehouse. As well, Campbell said a number of corporate partners have reached out to offer help.

"If we can consistently receive donations during this time, that's going to go a long way to help, but financial donations are also going to help and that will allow us to continue to purchase food as we need it if this extends for weeks," she said, adding people need to know they're taking necessary precautions.

"Our priority is safety. Their safety, the safety of our staff and volunteers, but we're doing everything we can to make sure that that service continues."

With files from Carmen Groleau


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