Nfld. & Labrador

St. John's food bank expecting surge in demand as pandemic continues

Bridges to Hope manager Jody Williams expects a significant increase in demand for food banks as supports put in place during the pandemic run out.

The food bank held drive-thru food drives in St. John's and Mount Pearl on Saturday

These are food donations for Bridges to Hope at the First United Church in Mount Pearl. Ninety per cent of the food they give out normally comes from donations. (Heather Gillis/CBC)

The manager of the Bridges to Hope food bank in St. John's expects to see a big surge in demand in the coming weeks.

Jody Williams told CBC News he figrues the need will jump 20 to 30 per cent soon.

"It's going to start happening, I expect, like literally like next week," he said.

Williams said demand had been lower during the pandemic because many people were receiving money from government programs like the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.. But when those payments stop, he expects many people will go hungry.

He says the increase is going to come from a new demographic — people who have never used the food bank before. He said he recently had a single mom use the food bank for the first time, after not getting a call to return to work.

"We're getting three or four or five calls a day from people who are like, 'I've never been to a food bank before, I don't know how they work.' These are all people who basically had jobs and now they're finding themselves underemployed," Williams said.

"It's a bit concerning, obviously, because we were already serving a thousand people a month before the pandemic."

Williams said some people in the restaurant industry haven't been called back because of lower occupancy due to public health restrictions. He said many people are shocked they don't have jobs to go back to, while others can't make ends meet on minimum wage.

Bridges to Hope held two drive-thru food drives Saturday, and manager Jody Williams expects the food bank will need those items to keep up with a surge in demand. (Heather Gillis/CBC)

Williams said when the pandemic began, the food bank suspended its walk-in programs. 

He said clients had to use a call-in system, which was difficult, because some don't have access to a phone.

He said they also suspended food donations at their office on Cookstown Road until they could develop a plan to protect their volunteers, who are all seniors. 

"We've had to purchase all of our food," Williams said.

Williams said that was unsustainable, since normally 90 per cent of their food is donated. However, he said Bridges to Hope received a grant that has allowed them to give out gift cards to clients.

"That allows people to get more culturally appropriate food. Sometimes we have people that are not from here, and we don't necessarily carry things at the food bank that they're used to eating," he said. 

"Also if you're a single mom, we don't get things like milk."

Williams is urging people to donate to Bridges to Hope, if they can, because until the end of June, the food bank has a chance to win money through the Great Canadian Giving Challenge.

"For every dollar donated right now, we have a chance of winning $20,000."

Bridges to Hope also held its first food drives since the pandemic began, on Saturday at Wesley United Church in St. John's and First United Church in Mount Pearl. Williams said the drives were well attended and will help them fill their shelves before demand surges.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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