Nfld. & Labrador

New food bank on Port au Port Peninsula caters to 50 families on opening day

Benoit First Nation Chief Jasen Benwah says food insecurity has been an increasing concern on the Port au Port Peninsula for years, but he hopes a new food bank will help feed the need.

Chief of Benoit First Nation says the need has only gotten higher since the pandemic

The Mi'kmaw Centre food bank opened in De Grau on the Port au Port Peninsula on Jan. 21. Since then, 100 or so families have visited. (Submitted by Jason Benwah)

A First Nation chief who helped start a new food bank on the Port au Port Peninsula says a flood of people on opening day highlights the need for more food security measures in the region.

Benoit First Nation Chief Jasen Benwah said some 30 families were expected at the Mi'kmaw Centre food bank when it opened in De Grau on Jan. 21. He estimates about 50 families showed up, some standing in line for as long as an hour.

All of that, before a single advertising pamphlet had been distributed.

Benwah said the scene was evidence of a stark reality in the region.

"Our people are hurting," he said. "The need is there"

An increasing need

Benwah said job losses and inflation since the onset of the pandemic have made food even more inaccessible for many in the Port au Port region. Fear of COVID-19 exposure has also kept some away from grocery stores — especially seniors, he said.

"Prices are going way up on food supplies, and a lot of people are on fixed incomes," Benwah said. "When they pay their heat and their lights, they have very little money for food, and that amount of money they have is being squeezed."

Benwah said the idea to open a food bank had been brewing for a while. At the beginning of the pandemic, the band had been handing out food hampers and personal protective equipment kits to people in the area.

When he saw the response, Benwah got a hunch that a year-round food bank would be needed.

Shelves at the Mi'kmaw Centre food bank are stocked with food for patrons on the Port au Port Peninsula. (Submitted by Jason Benwah)

"There's always been a need for food," Benwah said, "but I saw a need increasing." 

The wheels started to turn when Benoit First Nation declared food security one of its mandates, Benwah said. 

"Now that we got that statement out there, we need[ed] to do something more permanent," he said.

The band settled on a location — the Benoit First Nation's band office in De Grau — and registered with the province's food bank association, and with that, a dream was realized.

"It was my dream to get a food bank running," Benwah said, "and it's now up and running." 

Open to anyone

While the Mi'kmaw Centre food bank is intended primarily for the Indigenous community, Benwah said the team "doesn't discriminate."

"The only thing we need to know is, 'What do you need to have? When you pay your bills, do you have enough money to buy food?'" he said.

Benwah said the food bank will serve residents of Port au Port communities, from Piccadilly to Black Duck Brook to Cape St. George. 

Households can visit the food bank once every eight weeks, he said. In the interim, supply hampers and personal protective equipment kits will be handed out for those in need.

The Mi'kmaw Centre food bank is open Fridays, between 9 a.m. and noon. 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

with files from Newfoundland Morning