How this mobile pantry is helping women in supportive housing access fresh foods

The Region of Waterloo Food Bank's mobile pantry has made a big difference for the women who are part of YW Kitchener-Waterloo Supporting Housing program in Waterloo.

Pantry brings produce, meats and dairy foods directly to women staying at YW supportive housing

Sheneka Myers is the program co-ordinator for the YW Kitchener-Waterloo supportive housing program. A mobile food pantry from the Food Bank of Waterloo Region visits the organization's Waterloo location every other Monday to help women access fresh foods. (Carmen Groleau/CBC)

An initiative that sees a mobile food pantry visit vulnerable neighbourhoods in the region has made a big difference for the women who are part of YW Kitchener-Waterloo Supporting Housing program.

"A lot of our tenants [because of COVID] have become so isolated and just getting out and going to a food bank is a far reach or a far stretch for them," Sheneka Myers, program coordinator with YW supportive housing, told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo.

"Having it come directly to their home, right outside, it's exciting for them."

The mobile pantry is a new program from The Food Bank of Waterloo Region that launched in March of this year with the goal to visit different areas in the region with households who may be in need.

The YW's supportive housing programs offers a home for women who have lived with chronic homelessness, many who are single or with families, Myers said.

Pantry items like pastas, soups and sauces are also available for patrons to pick up. Myers said they also have recipe cards that people can take. (Carmen Groleau/CBC)

She said the mobile pantry has been a big help in giving the women in the program access to fresh produce, meats and dairy foods.

Myers says there is a food bank on site for emergency purposes, but when she started in her role, she realized they couldn't store fresh fruit and vegetables.

That sparked conversations to bring the mobile pantry to the YW's supportive housing building every other Monday, Myers explained.

There, the women can pick up a pre-packaged hamper and add other non-perishable foods, like pastas or soups from bins attached to the side of the truck.

People can also ask for other food items to be added to their hampers like more produce or meat that are stored in fridges and freezers inside the truck.

Items like fruits and veggies make up part of the prepared hampers that patrons take. (Carmen Groleau/CBC)

"Lots of times we'll have bread, cold meats and sometimes ice cream," said Craig Campbell, a volunteer who drives the food pantry. Fresh eggs and milk may also be on offer, depending on that week's supply at the food bank.

Since the pantry started visiting the building in September, Myers said she's slowly seen more women come out, but many still hesitate to utilize the service due to stigma.

"We almost have to talk them into it because they feel that, 'This isn't something for me, I have to be independent,'" she said.

"There's still a stigma even for the people who it will benefit."

Myers said she tries to encourage more women to access the mobile pantry by promoting it through text messages. She hopes that as more tenants come out and socialize with one another, word of the pantry will spread and women will feel more comfortable taking the food.

The mobile food pantry has something different to offer every week, said Myers. Fresh fruits and veggies are staple items that are offered in the hampers and patrons can sometimes pick up other foods like meats, eggs, cheese or yogurts. (Carmen Groleau/CBC)


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