Kitchener-Waterloo·Sounds of the Season

Helping out at Waterloo region's food bank carries new urgency in 2020, says volunteer

Maureen Dowhaniuk has been volunteering at The Food Bank of Waterloo Region for three years. While her role changed this year because of the pandemic, she says there's also a greater sense of urgency among volunteers to ensure people in need get food.

In April 2019, 182 unique households used the food bank; In April 2020 it was 604

Volunteers sort through items donated by the public in the warehouse of The Food Bank of Waterloo Region in this file photo. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

It's the faces Maureen Dowhaniuk misses the most.

Dowhaniuk has been volunteering at The Food Bank of Waterloo Region for three years. Before March, her job was to greet people as they came through the door to bring in donations, or other volunteers from community organizations who were coming to pick up items for people in need.

The food bank would be bustling with people, including her fellow volunteers.

But since March, and since the COVID-19 pandemic started to impact Waterloo region, Dowhaniuk has been helping make food hampers instead.

"Some of the faces that we have come to see on a weekly basis are no longer working their shifts," she says of volunteers who have had to stop coming in because they are at higher risk of contracting the virus.

"It's hard not to see the people that you see on a regular basis, not only the volunteers, but also the people who come in from the agencies who come and pick up their orders, who you get used to every week. And it's unfortunate we can't see them either."

'It feels more urgent'

Dowhaniuk says she still enjoys going in for her volunteer shifts because she knows the need for food in the community is growing.

In April 2019, 182 unique households accessed the food bank. This April, that number rose to 604.

"It feels more urgent, I think," she says of the feeling at the food bank.

The volunteers "work extremely hard to get hampers built and food delivered to the agencies that require the food, because ... the need is up. And so people, they don't miss shifts. They're there all the time."

In terms of raising food and funds this year, it's also been a challenge, says the food bank. Fewer events and fewer people at work has meant fewer food drives.

Wendi Campbell, the CEO of The Food Bank of Waterloo Region, says community support has been great this year but the need remains high and will even last past the pandemic.

"As the holidays approach, we just encourage everybody to continue thinking about our neighbours in need. And although so many things have shifted and changed this year, the need in our community is still great and will continue to be great for months to come," Campbell said.

"Don't forget about the charities that are close to your heart and that mean so much to your family and make those online donations. They really go a long way to ensuring that we have the support we need to continue doing essential work in our community."

Ways to help

Dowhaniuk used to work in fundraising for hospitals to help buy expensive equipment, which meant she needed people to make big financial donations. What struck her about the food bank, she said, is just how far a single dollar can be stretched. With the buying power of the food bank, one dollar can be turned into three meals.

"And so if somebody who has never donated before donates $20, that's significant. That's 60 meals, which is almost enough meals to feed one person for three weeks," she said.

She also recommends people who want to help out can add a few extra items into their cart to drop in a donation bin at the grocery store or, if that's not possible, the food bank is always looking for volunteers to help out.

"Wearing masks, wearing face shields, the food bank has been extremely diligent in protecting the volunteers who do come in on a regular basis," she said.

CBC K-W's annual Sounds of the Season campaign raises food and funds for The Food Bank of Waterloo Region.


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