Nfld. & Labrador

Non-profits dip into cash, as Dominion gift cards mostly nullified by strike

A few organizations in St. John's that have been helping feed clients via gift cards are having to turn elsewhere in the midst of the ongoing strike.

Grocery store workers began strike Saturday night, closing 11 stores across N.L.

Jody Williams, left, and Robyn LeGrow are both trying to figure out how to bridge the gap left by unusable Dominion gift cards. (CBC)

Some non-profit organizations in St. John's are scrambling to meet their clients' nutrition needs, as the Dominion gift cards normally handed out have been rendered temporarily largely useless by a strike.

Since the pandemic hit, federal funding programs and donations by Dominion's parent company Loblaw have been providing its gift cards to food banks and other related charities, such as the Jimmy Pratt Foundation in St. John's, which has been using $500 gift cards to fund a program that feeds families with young children.

"We had to actually dig into cash funding, now, and that'll be a few thousand dollars for each month," said Robyn Legrow, the foundation's executive director.

"It's putting us in a position where we have to dig into our cash reserves, and with a second wave coming, we don't even know what's about to unfold over the next few months."

Bridges to Hope, which operates a food pantry program in the city, is similarly scrambling. Manager Jody Williams said the gift cards have been handed out to all its clients in the last three months along with non-perishable food hampers, so people can supplement fresh milk, meat and produce.

"I'm in a bit of a bind here right now, in real time," Williams told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show on Tuesday.

Loblaw told CBC in a statement Wednesday the gift cards can still be redeemed at the province's three No Frills locations, in Mount Pearl, Clarenville and Marystown. Cards can also be redeemed at Atlantic Wholesale Club in St. John's, and at the province's four Your Independent Grocer locations in Catalina, Gambo, Lewisporte and Twillingate.

About 1,400 Dominion workers in Newfoundland have been on strike since Saturday night, closing all of its 11 locations across the island after rejecting a tentative agreement with their employer. The workers want part-time positions restored to full-time ones, as more than 80 per cent of their workforce are part-time employees.

Eleven Dominion stores have been closed due to the strike. (Gary Quigley/CBC)

Food supplies low

In a statement, Loblaw told CBC News it would be working with local food banks and organizations to make sure perishable food on store shelves will be used. The workers' union has offered to help in that transaction, but Loblaw said that would not be needed.

The Jimmy Pratt Foundation has no capability to store food, said LeGrow, and wouldn't be able to avail of that offer — and such food donations aren't the preferred methods for keeping their clients fed anyway.

"It's hard enough for someone to call in and ask for help with food. It's worse when you're actually told what you're going to receive and half of it's not useful to you. We like to be able to give our clients more freedom to be able to make their own choices about what they're going to eat, as opposed to being told what they'll eat," she said.

Food donations and food drives have dropped off since the pandemic hit Bridges to Hope, leaving their stocks bare.

"We don't really have food, currently, like we normally do. We are in a bind," said Williams.

A worker on a picket line outside the Dominion in Corner Brook. Parent company Loblaw says it will work directly with food banks to get perishable food off store shelves. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

Neither Williams nor LeGrow are certain of their next steps, although LeGrow notes that some of the faces on the picket line are familiar to her.

"The irony of this situation though, is the people who access my services … are people like the workers of Dominion who are now stuck without pay," she said.

Loblaw said in its statement it will not reopen its Newfoundland locations during the strike. Its pharmacies remain open.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show

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