Nfld. & Labrador

Charitable groups face pandemic pressure, but aren't giving up on Christmas campaigns

Community groups have withstood a tumultuous year, and with the holidays on the horizon, demands for their services are about to rise.

Meeting targets, finding volunteers a concern for Salvation Army, Gathering Place

Salvation Army spokesperson Maj. Rene Loveless says the demand in services from his organization has reached another level this year. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Charitable community groups are already grappling with a tumultuous year, and many are now bracing for impact as the holidays draw near.

The Salvation Army says it helped over 35,000 people across Newfoundland and Labrador last year, providing more than 46,000 meals. 

The organization launched its annual kettle campaign on Tuesday, seeking donations from the public to help put food on tables throughout the province.

This year, it's looking to raise $700,000. 

"Things are different this year because of the pandemic that we're in," said spokesperson Maj. Rene Loveless. "The need has lifted to a whole new level."

Loveless, speaking at a campaign unveiling at the Avalon Mall in St. John's on Tuesday, told CBC News the Salvation Army is seeing an increase in the number of people who are looking for help with its services and food bank.

Some, he said, are reaching out for the first time. 

He expects challenges with putting volunteers in the field to help collect donations while staying in line with provincial COVID-19 guidelines.

"We have a long ways to go," said Loveless. "We know there's going to be challenges with the volunteer side which is absolutely critical for us to do the kettle campaign."

During the holiday season in 2019, the Salvation Army assisted more than 7,100 people. This year, Loveless hopes businesses will step up to help run the campaign, or first-time volunteers will sign on. 

Joanne Thompson, executive director of the Gathering Place, says the number of people needing the assistance of the organization this year is staggering. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

Elsewhere, the Gathering Place in St. John's — a community service centre that provides meals, medical aid, shelter and other programing — says it serves more than 4,000 guests in the St. John's area.

Executive director Joanne Thompson said the number of people the Gathering Place is seeing this year is staggering, in part because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"The community has been so good to us. We were able to keep going with food in particular because people were so kind," Thompson said. 

"You never know with Christmas, because we rely on donations for all of our operation's expenses. So we're hopeful."

Thompson said the plan heading into the holidays is to remain open and continue to provide food for those who need it, seven days a week.

But, like the Salvation Army, she said finding volunteers, even among those who have given their time to the organization in the past, presents a hurdle.

"It's very difficult for all of them to come back, especially if there's health issues or health issues within their families," she said. "Volunteers [are] always in need and will be a huge need over the holidays."

Volunteers of NL Eats were busy over the Thanksgiving weekend putting together 150 food hampers, which were distributed throughout St. John's. (Submitted by Lindsay Newman)

NL Eats — a food security group based in St. John's which operates a food bank through donations — said the demand for food is as steady as ever. 

NL Eats recently paused its food bank service after it had to leave its location, said director of external affairs Lindsay Newman.

But the organization has hit the pavement every two weeks since Thanksgiving to deliver food hampers to the food-insecure. During Thanksgiving weekend alone the group delivered 150 food hampers. 

"Sometimes we get the same folks requesting food hampers, sometimes we get new folks," Newman said. "But that need has been there, and I'm sure as we get closer to Christmas it's only going to grow."

The group is partnering with the YMCA to reach donation goals for its food hamper drive, but for Christmas, NL Eats wants to go one step further by adding small gifts from money earned through donations for families in need in the form of shoes, jackets, school bags and other clothing.

"It's been a stressful year for so many people with income loss, stress and general anxiety," said Abib Rahnan, director of marketing for NL Eats. 

"For Christmas we're going in with a target of 300 families, but that number will quickly change as we have more people reach out to us."

Rahnan said Christmas food hamper deliveries will start Dec. 19 with a second delivery date set for Dec. 23. 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Jeremy Eaton

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