Community raises 150K for burned-out food bank warehouse, manager says
A new home has also been offered up
After a devastating fire that wiped out a warehouse full of food, the Community Food Sharing Association welcomed two pieces of good news late Thursday.
Eg Walters, the association's manager, said the food bank supplier could have a new home as early as Friday — and they'll be able to fill it with donations and repaired equipment, thanks to community efforts that have so far raised about $150,000.
Premier Dwight Ball met with Walters at the burned-out warehouse Thursday on Topsail Road in Mount Pearl. Walters said Ball offered $50,000 from the provincial government and space at a facility owned by Eastern Health at 66 Pippy Pl. in St. John's.
Walters toured the facility Thursday afternoon and deemed it suitable for the association's needs.
"They're preparing a lease for us and we're going to be able to sign that, either tomorrow or early next week, and move in right away," he said.
Walters said he received several offers for a substitute space, but he's hoping the Pippy Place location will offer a longer-term solution. "It'll actually give us some stability," he said.
Walters also said he's been fielding calls from businesses and organizations all day. He said Scotiabank wanted to double their initial $10,000 donation, while other organizations, including Chevron, Coleman Group, and an N.L. English School District charity, have kicked in $10,000 each.
"That will certainly give us a good leg up," he said.
All in a day
Walters made a public plea earlier Thursday on The St. John's Morning Show, looking for a space to move into after the fire ruined their warehouse and all the food inside.
"Please, someone come out of the woodwork and give us some temporary space we can work out of," Walters said at the time.
It’s people like Eg Walters and his volunteers that define community. Our government is responding to the immediate needs of the Community Food Sharing Association as we work towards finding a suitable temporary space. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/GovNL?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#GovNL</a> <a href="https://t.co/FPJjaLb1ps">pic.twitter.com/FPJjaLb1ps</a>—@PremierofNL
"We're trying to help them now to get some storage in place, because we know the food will come in," Ball said a little later. "First and foremost, the most important thing now is to support Mr. Walters and his group."
On Thursday, the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary said it appears it was an electrical fire and it is not considered suspicious.
Walters said the fire started in the electrical room.
A look inside the burned out warehouse for the Community Food Sharing Association. Between $300,000-$400,000 worth of food destroyed by fire. <a href="https://t.co/30J303Ymr5">pic.twitter.com/30J303Ymr5</a>—@CStokescbc
Fire affects food banks across province
Amy Ralph felt sick to her stomach when she heard the news — the Community Food Sharing Association warehouse in Mount Pearl was on fire.
Ralph, who helps run the food bank for Botwood and its surrounding area in central Newfoundland, knows how much food banks in the province rely on the organization to stay afloat.
The demands are especially high in the dead of winter, after the financial crunch of Christmas and amid the highest heat bills of the year.
"All those food banks who rely on community food sharing, I just don't know how they're going to survive," she told Newfoundland Morning.
At Memorial University, the campus food bank is under pressure as students get deeper into the winter semester.
Brenda Mullett, who helps run the food bank, said they are doing OK right now, but their situation could change soon if the association can't get up and running quickly.
"If this goes on longer than a month, we'll be in deep trouble for sure," she said. "We don't want to think about it. What we'll have to do is reduce some of the items we're giving out."
In Botwood, Ralph has had to call on the Community Food Sharing Association sparingly. As of late, the townspeople have been doing a good job of supplying food through donations.
No amount is too small to donate.- Amy Ralph
But every now and then, when the shelves are a little too bare for comfort, Ralph knows help isn't far away.
"The Community Food Sharing Association has always been there," she said. "We're members of that group and we know that they have our backs if we get in trouble with food. We know it's just a phone call away and the food is shipped out."
While the fire comes at a terrible time in terms of demand, it also comes at the peak of supply. The association sees a huge spike in donations around Christmas, and Walters said they had just had a large shipment of food come in.
Ralph, who sits on the board of directors for the association, said people can help by donating to their local food banks to ensure the stock stays high as the association gets back on its feet.
"No amount is too small to donate," she said.
Support pouring in around the province
Meanwhile, people across Newfoundland and Labrador are rallying to help.
Member of Parliament Seamus O'Regan started the push, opening his office for donations shortly after the fire broke out.
By the end of the day, a long line of do-gooders had leapt into action. CBC Newfoundland and Labrador — a media partner of the Community Food Sharing Association — has launched a page directing people towards financial donations.
Staff at the A.C. Hunter Library in St. John's put their heads together and came up with Food for Fines: anyone who drops off non-perishable items to the library will have their overdue fines wiped clean. People have already begun filling the Food for Fines cart, by the library checkout.
"As soon as we put it up on social media, it's just been all over the place," said librarian Leigha Chiasson-Locke.
"It's an opportunity to have one community hub and institution, helping another institution. That's what we want to do."
St. John's Mayor Danny Breen said while the city does not have warehouse space to provide to the association, it will also push for donations. He pledged to have food bank donation dropoffs at all municipal winter festivals on the northeast Avalon, including the city's Chillfest in February, as well as events in Paradise and Mount Pearl.
"I'm confident the people of this region will step up and help out," he told CBC, adding the municipalities will store that food on behalf of the association if space continues to be an issue.
The St. John's Edge are giving away discounted tickets to Thursday's game against the Halifax Hurricanes in exchange for non-perishable food items.
The VOCM Cares Foundation will be holding a food drive from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday at Coleman's locations on Newfoundland Drive in St. John's and Centennial Street in Mount Pearl.
A host of other businesses are also kicking in with fundraising and food-collecting efforts, from bridal shops to pizza places and more.
Joy Connors of the Bay of Islands Food Bank Network said her organization doesn't actually rely on the Community Food Sharing Association for donations.
But that hasn't stopped the phone from ringing, with several people asking how they can help, said Connors.
She has directed several people to the association's website and will continue to do so.
With files from Malone Mullin, Ryan Cooke, Mark Quinn, On the Go and The St. John's Morning Show