New Brunswick food banks bracing for double demand amid COVID-19 outbreak
An estimated extra $1M in funding will be needed for the next month, says operator
New Brunswick food banks are expecting double the usual demand for food in the coming weeks and some are already running low on supplies and volunteers.
Many people are out of work because of the COVID-19 pandemic and it takes 28 to 40 days before any employment insurance payments are received, said Yves Sevigny, president of the New Brunswick Association of Food Banks and executive director of the food bank in Edmundston, Atelier R.A.D.O.
"After two weeks without pay a lot of families won't have any choice but to turn to the food banks," said Sevigny.
That's going to pose "a huge challenge," he said.
Some food banks are already reporting increases in demand of 10 to 50 per cent.
The food bank in Edmundston usually gives out 15 food boxes a day, with each family given one per month. They are now handing out 20 to 25 per day. Sevigny expects that number will climb to 30 boxes a day before the end of April.
"The amount of food we have in storage is going down very, very fast," he said.
Food donations are also down, partly because many people who would normally give are either not at the grocery store to drop items in donation bins or not sure of their own financial footing.
As a consequence, food banks are having to buy a lot more food than they budgeted for — items like canned tuna, chicken, ham, peanut butter, vegetables, pasta and sauces.
"Most of the food banks will run out of money very fast," said Sevigny
At this rate, he said, some will have to close by the end of April.
"I have 19 freezers to run," said Sevigny. "I have seven employees to pay. And it's bare bones. I can't run this thing without these employees."
It all costs money, he said.
For now, they are looking at cutting back on the amount of food distributed to each family in order to try to make supplies last longer and share them with more people.
Chantal Senecal of the Food Depot in Moncton, which distributes food donations to the 60 food banks across the province, estimated an extra $1 million will be needed to meet the increased demand and cover food bank operating costs for the next month alone.
"We're concerned that we're going to see a huge increase in demand and we don't have the resources to provide," said Senecal.
"It's a little scary."
Ways to give
Senecal and Sevigny suggested that anyone who wants to help should make a cash donation to their local food bank.
If your local food bank doesn't have its own online collection system, you can give through Canada Helps. There are links at fooddepot.ca
There are also fundraising campaigns happening through Food Banks Canada and the United Way in Atlantic Canada.
Prospects for funding or donations
Senecal said she's had discussions with the Department of Social Development and is hopeful provincial funding will be made available soon, but so far she has received no pledges.
Other provincial governments across Canada have already distributed millions of dollars in COVID-19-related assistance to their food bank organizations, she said.
Federally, the Canada Revenue Agency is setting up a wage subsidy that should be somewhat of a help for food banks, as well as other non-profits, said Jane Buckley, District 3 chair of the provincial food banks group and executive director of the Oromocto Food bank.
Buckley said Food Banks Canada has recently received some large donations and food bank directors in the province are meeting by teleconference Wednesday to talk about how to get a share of it.
Besides money, some New Brunswick food banks are also low on volunteers.
That's largely because many regular helpers are senior citizens who have health conditions that put them at greater risk if they are exposed to coronavirus.
In Tracadie, for example, there is now only one person keeping the service going, Sevigny said.
Senecal said the Food Depot warehouse lost 10 volunteers and is operating with about 60 per cent of its normal workforce. They've hired some summer students a bit early to make up for it and are hoping the funding for the positions comes through.
They are not accepting new volunteers at this time, however, with the exception of delivery drivers, because the warehouse jobs require vetting and training, she said, and they want people who are going to be there for the long term.
The Ray of Hope Soup Kitchen in Moncton is looking for a few people to help with things like peeling vegetables, preparing take-out meal boxes and cleaning up the kitchen.
It normally provides a warm dining hall for 100 to 120 people a day but has scaled back to take-out boxes only to comply with emergency requirements to limit group gatherings.
Vestiaire St-Joseph in Shediac is running with a "skeleton" crew of five, having laid off 13 employees of its thrift shop, which is usually its main source of operating funds.
But executive director Mark LeBlanc said they are not looking for new volunteers either, mainly due to social distancing requirements.
Instead, they've adapted their service to hand out pre-made boxes outside the door instead of allowing clients to come in and shop around.
The Bathurst Volunteer Centre, Saint John Community Food Basket and Oromocto Food Bank have taken a similar approach.
Thrift stores have shut down. Workers are handing out pre-made boxes at a distance or volunteers are delivering them on doorsteps.
Current needs for particular products vary by organization.
The Perth-Andover food bank's shelves are emptying fast, said Sevigny.
The Oromocto Food Bank has run out of spaghetti and started substituting salad dressing. It's also low on soups.
"We're short on non-perishable staples," said Buckley.
She's also heard from a grocery supplier that there's no guarantee certain products will be in stock in the next little while.
There have already been sporadic product shortages because of runs on certain items in grocery stores.
Dave Small of The Ray of Hope couldn't get any bread for sandwiches for a while, but that's since been remedied. Their current needs are for pre-packaged items, such as juice boxes or cans and granola bars, that can be included in lunch boxes.
Community response has been good when they've issued appeals, he said.
The New Brunswick Community College came through with a couple of cases of hand sanitizer, for example, which it didn't need because classes have been cancelled.
In general, less food is available through grocery store recovery programs, said Senecal.
That's partly because shoppers have been buying up more.
But at Vestiaire St-Joseph, LeBlanc said they just don't have the volunteers to sanitize the items.
Because the items are close to expiring, they have to be distributed quickly, and that isn't possible with current health and safety requirements.
"Our clients are vulnerable," he said. "Over 60 per cent of them are older or have health conditions. We have to take precautions."
As food donations come in, said LeBlanc, they are put in a bin and dated for processing after a few days, in hopes that any possible coronavirus on surfaces has died off.
At the Oromocto Food Bank, on the other hand, they have plenty of produce from grocery stores, said Buckley, and are working to process and freeze it for distribution.
School breakfast food still going out
On another bright note, said Senecal, the Food Depot has partnered with anglophone and francophone school districts to distribute food for children who would normally take part in school breakfast and lunch programs.
Parents have been notified, she said, and breakfast food boxes are being made available every two weeks, using up inventories from the Breakfast Clubs of Canada program for 26 schools in the region.
All the food banks in District 3 that have school programs are still handing food out as well, said Buckley.