St. Andrews Food Bank launches card distribution program

The newly formed St. Andrews Food Bank is trying a different approach to battling hunger in the community.

Grocery cards will be distributed to families and individuals in need of food in town and surrounding area

The St. Andrews Food Bank is taking a non-traditional approach for the service. (Facebook/St. Andrews Food Bank)

Organizers behind the newly established St. Andrews Food Bank have taken an alternative approach to stop people in their community from going hungry.

It's introducing a grocery card program — replacing food boxes with gift cards to give users more choice, and remove the stigma around the service.

Holly Johnson is spearheading the effort. She said the group was scouting a location across the street from the St. Andrews Independent grocery store, when the idea for food cards was first proposed.

"It almost defies logic to set up a food bank and pay rent, a power bill, you need to bring in freezers, refrigerators, and store food, and it's very labour intensive, and it's literally across the street from the grocery store," Johnson told Information Morning Saint John on Friday.

"It's a whole new way of thinking. It eliminates the need for a permanent building and storage of food, and a lot of that labour intensive work that needs to be done with volunteers packing boxes. So we have our fingers crossed for good results."

Open twice a month

The food bank will operate two half-days in the middle of each month at the Wesley United Church on 77 William St.

The church is donating the space, and the Independent grocery has signed on as a partner.

The Wesley United Church will be the location for the St. Andrews Food Bank card distribution program. (Facebook/St. Andrews Food Bank)
Cards have been loaded with specific amounts for families and individuals, which are equivalent to the boxes of food handed out at the St. Stephen food bank.

Users only need to prove they live in the town or its outlying areas.

The cards cannot be used for tobacco or to purchase lottery tickets, and they can't be passed on to somebody else.

"People are proud and this empowers them. They can shop like you, me, anyone else can … We are fortunate to have a grocery store in the heart of the community [serving] as our food warehouse," Johnson said.

"If you're diabetic, or you have Celiac disease, or you have food intolerance, rather than a traditional food box where you might not get a lot of choice, you can go in and buy fresh food at the grocery store.

"Hopefully they'll be able to double the value of their cards by making smart budgeting choices when they're in the store and stretch the value of those cards."

First in New Brunswick

The approach, modelled after a food bank in Woodstock Ont., is the first of its kind in New Brunswick. The city of Woodstock has been operating successfully under this model for about 10 years.

"No one knows any differently, it's done discreetly and very respectfully and gives them choice to purchase whatever food they would like to each. Good, healthy food," said Johnson.

it's done discreetly and very respectfully.- Holly Johnson

This is the town's third attempt to launch a food bank, and finding a suitable location has always been the major stumbling block.

Johnson said thanks to there being no overhead costs, all money raised will go toward purchasing the grocery cards.

The group is now looking at forming partnerships with area businesses. Residents are also encouraged to sponsor a family.

More information about the program can be found on the St. Andrews Food Bank Facebook page.

With files from Information Morning Saint John