New Brunswick

Rural food banks offer delivery to those too scared, unable to leave home

The president of the Sackville Food Bank has seen a big decrease in the number of people picking up food boxes and worries people are too nervous to leave their homes. Heather Patterson is trying to get the message out that volunteers will deliver.

Volunteers stepping up to deliver food boxes to vulnerable families in rural areas during COVID-19 pandemic

Heather Patterson, president of the Sackville Food Bank, is seeing more donations but fewer clients since the province shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

Heather Patterson is unloading frozen turkeys from a car that has just pulled up with a trunk filled with donations.

As president of the Sackville Food Bank, she said this is just one example of the incredible generosity she's seen in her community since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the province.

Patterson said there is plenty of food on the shelves at the food bank, but is becoming increasingly concerned that fewer and fewer people are turning up for food boxes every two weeks.

"Unfortunately though our numbers have dropped off," she said. 

Volunteers from the local Rotary Club are offering to deliver food boxes from the Sackville Food Bank to people who are unable or unwilling to leave their homes. (Pierre Fournier/CBC)

Patterson said there are normally 50 to 55 people who collect food for their households, which account for a total of 240 individuals. Lately however, only 33 people have been showing up on pick-up day.

Patterson worries older people or those with underlying conditions may feel unsafe leaving their homes so she is spreading the word that the Sackville Food Bank will deliver, thanks to volunteers from the Rotary Club.

So far two people have called her asking for a delivery, and she hopes more will do the same.

"If they don't feel they can come it's really too bad because we have lots of food and really good stuff and we're happy to get it to them," she said.

Volunteers also staying home

It's not just food bank clients who aren't showing up, Patterson has lost most of her volunteers who were either older or had underlying medical conditions, putting them at higher risk of serious complications should they contract COVID-19.

Thankfully, she has seen others step up to help.

"We've had two of our clients volunteer and they're great and we've had two Mount Allison students volunteer." 

In Port Elgin, Sue Haney, executive director of the PEDVAC Foundation, said all of her volunteers had to quit for the same reasons but fortunately she has staff who are able to operate the food bank.

Sue Haney, executive director of PEDVAC, the organization that runs the Port Elgin food bank, said the first week after schools were shut down were slow. But over time, more people are in need of food, especially seniors who don't feel safe at the grocery store. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

The charity runs many programs, but right now is focusing all of its resources and efforts on the food bank.

Haney said in the early days of the pandemic she also saw fewer clients coming for food, but that is no longer the case.

"Last week we were very busy, the phone was ringing off the hook."

Forty families normally visit the food bank and Haney is now getting calls from new clients, many of whom are seniors.

"They may not have used our food bank and just bought their own stuff before, but now that they can't get anywhere and they're so afraid, this is what they have to do to get groceries," Haney said.

Sackville and Port Elgin are working together, and Haney is grateful the Sackville Food Bank is helping with deliveries that are coming from the Food Depot Alimentaire, which is based in Moncton.

Haney said her food bank orders some of its own dry goods, such as canned soups and crackers, which are becoming harder and harder to come by.

With more than 40 families in and around the Village of Port Elgin relying on the group for food, the fear of not having what people need weighs on Haney's mind.

The Food Depot is expecting double the usual demand for food in the coming weeks. (Food Depot Alimentaire/Peter McKee Community Food Centre/Facebook)

"The concern for me is, you know we have enough food right now, but it's just the unknown and you don't want to get caught without enough food," she said.

"So it's always that thinking ahead and trying to strategize as to how and to not let any food go to waste either." 

Chantal Senecal, executive director of the Food Depot Alimentaire, has served 60 new families in the month of March. 

She says numbers are up everywhere, and wonders if part of the reason the Sackville Food Bank is seeing fewer clients is because of increased support from other groups.

Volunteers with a group calling itself Tantramar School Food have organized since schools were closed March 13.

They have delivered hundreds of food boxes to students and their families who normally rely on school food programs.

About the Author

Tori Weldon

Reporter

Tori Weldon is a reporter based in Moncton. She's been working for the CBC since 2008.

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