Fire wipes out supply at Community Food Sharing Association warehouse

Fire wipes out the main warehouse of the organization that supplies many of the food banks in Newfoundland and Labrador, destroying stock at a difficult time of year when donations tend to trail off.

'We don't even have one can of soup,' official says

Eg Walters, the Community Food Sharing Association's general manager, says he's devastated to see the damage to the warehouse. (Lukas Wall/CBC)

Fire wiped out the main warehouse of the organization that supplies many of the food banks in Newfoundland and Labrador on Wednesday morning, destroying stock at a difficult time of year when donations tend to trail off. 

The blaze at the Community Food Sharing Association's warehouse in Mount Pearl, N.L., claimed food worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, officials say. 

"It's devastating… we have absolutely no food," said CFSA general manager Eg Walters. 

"We don't even have one can of soup now that we could distribute." 

The St. John's-based association serves as a central hub for donations from the area, and in turn distributes material to 54 food banks all over the province, providing food to some 27,000 people. 

The cost of the damage to the building was not immediately clear. 

"We've certainly lost our warehouse space, and with the damage that's been done in there, it's certainly not going to be ready any time soon to be reoccupied," Walters told reporters in front of the building. 

St. John's Regional Fire Department arrived at the scene of the blaze just after 9:30 a.m. NT. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Walters said a few people were inside at the time of the fire, but no one was injured. The cause of the fire is under investigation. 

Those people "heard a loud bang," he said. "And with that they they saw flames and smoke and it just just grew rapidly."

Because Christmas is such a popular time to donate, CFSA was, as usual, holding onto some food "to help the food banks get through January, February and the long, cold hungry month of March," Walters said. 

"We had three tractor trailer loads of food come in from Food Banks Canada just within the last three weeks and that was being getting ready to be distributed and certainly, there's absolutely nothing there at all now." 

Walters said he is still coming to the grips with the extent of the devastation. 

"It's going to be a major job for us to get back on our feet again… I think a lot of us are still in a state of shock over what happened," he said.

"We're hoping that someone comes forward and offers us some warehouse space."

The St. John's Regional Fire Department showed up on scene on Topsail Road just after 9:30 a.m. NT.

Crews inspect the damage to the warehouse. (Lukas Wall/CBC)

Traffic was shut down for about an hour on all four lanes of Topsail Road. Some fire crews pulled back and left around 10:30 a.m., while Newfoundland Power and the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary remained on scene.

Efforts to raise donations for the association began before the fire department had even left the warehouse.

MP Seamus O'Regan said his staff will collect donations at his nearby constituency office on Topsail Road while the building is shut down.

Later in the day, Premier Dwight Ball said the provincial government contacted the association about helping it "address its immediate needs."

Signs of a community starting to rally around the association also emerged Wednesday afternoon.

A small bridal store is encouraging cash donations by offering a discount on gowns, while a St. John's high school contacted parents to notify them of a food drive to support the CFSA.

At least one large company has also announced it will chip in. An executive for the Atlantic Canada arm of oil producer Chevron told CBC News the company wishes to donate $10,000.

Effects ripple north

Food banks as far away as Happy Valley-Goose Bay — more than 800 kilometres to the northwest, on the mainland — will feel the loss, said Patti Maloney, an outreach worker with the Labrador Friendship Centre, which supplies over 2,000 people in the small community with donated goods.

The Community Food Sharing Association's warehouse, located in the rear of this building on Topsail Road, was damaged by fire Wednesday. (Lukas Wall/CBC)

Milk, cereal and other staples tend to go fast this time of year, she said, and while they're not in immediate danger of running out, the coming weeks could mean hardship for many.

The need for donations has gone up in recent years due to an increase in the cost of living, Maloney said. 

"People are saying to us, 'You just can't afford to eat,'" she said. "We have clients who say, 'It's rent or food. you've got to choose.'

"So taking a blow such as the warehouse burning down — I'm at a loss for words, because it's going to have such an impact on our province."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Mark Quinn and Lukas Wall

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