Nfld. & Labrador

How a retired Mountie found a new beat working with food banks

A retired police officer in western Newfoundland spent 14 weeks during the pandemic on patrol for food bank donations. As some churches have reopened, Paddy McNeil said he'll stop the pickup service, at least for now.

Retired RCMP officer collected for food bank for 14 weeks during pandemic

Paddy McNeil donned his mask and gloves each week to do door-to-door pickups, by appointment, for the Pasadena community food bank. (Submitted by Paddy McNeil)

As a police officer, Paddy McNeil was used to putting a lot of kilometres on his patrol car.

During the pandemic, the retired member of the RCMP shifted gears to rack up the mileage on his own vehicle — on the lookout not for lawbreakers, but in hot pursuit of food bank donations.

Now, after 14 weeks, McNeil has brought a halt to his food bank pickup service in his hometown of Pasadena, N.L., at least for now.

Once COVID-19 arrived in Newfoundland and Labrador in March, McNeil, who retired from the RCMP in 2009, saw a need to keep his local food bank operational, as he knew that most donations had previously come in through churches, which were forced to shut down.

McNeil and his wife, Sandra, decided to initiate a door-to-door, contactless pickup of items for the Pasadena community food bank. All it took was for residents to call McNeil and, each Wednesday, he'd pick up what they had put out on their doorsteps to donate.

He said the initiative certainly kept him from becoming bored throughout the long months of lockdown.

"We weren't isolated because we were so busy doing the things that we thought were important to do for those people that need it the most," said McNeil.

In total, over the course of 14 weeks, McNeil's tally indicates he picked up more than 2,500 pounds of food and $6,600 in cash donations.

He figures the food bank has enough food and donations on hand to keep going into the fall. 

McNeil made weekly shopping trips to ensure the food bank in Pasadena had enough on hand to help clients. (Submitted by Paddy McNeil)

Detailed record-keeping

In an effort to avoid spreading the virus and to ensure contact tracing would be possible if someone got sick, as well as to provide transparency and accountability to his volunteer efforts, McNeil said, he established a system to record the names and addresses of those who donated.

Once he picked up donations, McNeil said, they were stored for several days before being processed in order to ensure that they were not contaminated with the coronavirus and to keep food bank volunteers safe.

Food bank volunteers Marilyn Fifield and Patsy Perry now have fully stocked shelves from which to serve food bank clients in Pasadena. (Submitted by Paddy McNeil)

"We followed all the guidelines of the health authorities for COVID-19, so that we would be able to do contact tracing in the event that anybody did get sick," he said.

As McNeil used some of the donated funds to buy food bank items for those who couldn't get to the store during the pandemic, he was also meticulous in recording every purchase at grocery stores in Pasadena, Corner Brook and Deer Lake.

"One of the promises we made to our donors [was] that, because you can't go get the food, we'll go get it for you," said McNeil.

With all the driving around for pickups and shopping for the food bank, McNeil estimates his volunteer efforts put more than 150 kilometres on his vehicle every week since March.

McNeil's trips to the grocery store on behalf of the food bank always led to a full car load. (Submitted by Paddy McNeil)

Giving back

McNeil said he's been amazed at the generosity of residents of Pasadena, a town of about 3,600 people, more than 500 of whom donated either food or money.

"How often do you get people just give you money for a cause and ask you for nothing in return other than to keep the [food] bank full?" said McNeil.

He's also been pleased to be able to provide extras to the food bank in the form of items they don't normally have on hand for clients, such as toilet paper, soap, and snack foods for children.

McNeil said he's now satisfied that the food bank is well stocked for the summer, which is always a challenging time to get donations, so he's decided to curtail his food drive for now.

McNeil and his wife, Sandra, spent 14 weeks picking up food and cash donations for the Pasadena community food bank. (Submitted by Paddy McNeil)

With some churches re-opening in Alert Level 2, McNeil hopes some people will resume giving in the usual pre-pandemic way.

He said he'd like to see people continue to put their name on their bags of donations, so contact tracing could be easily done if a case of COVID-19 were to come to light.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Bernice Hillier is a host of CBC Newfoundland Morning, which airs weekday mornings across western and central Newfoundland, as well as southern Labrador.

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