Nfld. & Labrador

As food bank use soars, CBC N.L. begins December fundraising drive

With food bank usage up across the province, Eg Walters hopes enough money can be raised for the Community Food Sharing Association to get them through a COVID-19 winter.

Make the Season Kind campaign hopes to keep shelves stocked this winter

A volunteer packs his truck at the Community Food Sharing Association warehouse in St. John's on Tuesday. The goods were brought to a local food bank to stock the shelves for those in need. (Ryan Cooke/CBC)

With more and more people relying on food banks across Newfoundland and Labrador, Eg Walters hopes enough money can be raised in the next few weeks to carry them through a cold, COVID-19 winter.

Walters is in his 28th year with the Community Food Association, and in this unprecedented year is counting on the kindness of citizens and corporations to help those in need — some of whom have never needed for anything before the pandemic wreaked havoc at home.

"Indications are that we are going to have a good Christmas season, donation-wise," Walters told CBC on Tuesday. 

"There's a much higher demand this year than there was in previous years, but we know that our fellow Newfoundlanders will come to our aid and help put the food on the table for those less fortunate throughout Newfoundland and Labrador."

CBC N.L. is once again partnering with the association, with its Make the Season Kind Campaign. The fundraiser helps the association get through the winter, when demand goes up in the post-Christmas weeks and months.

Walters is anticipating a 20 per cent increase in demand from the 54 food banks the Community Food Sharing Association stocks through the province, from St. John's to Port aux Basques to as far north as Nain.

For every $10 donated to the campaign, the association can leverage it into $430 worth of food. Food bank usage went up at 59 per cent of food banks in 2019, and that number is expected to be even higher this year.

Eg Walters is the general manager of the Community Food Sharing Association. He's been playing a vital role with the group for 28 years. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

Pandemic struggles

In Carbonear, Kerri Abbott is seeing about a 35 per cent increase in users at the food bank where she works.

"We're seeing people we haven't seen in years. We're seeing first-time users who are unsure what sorts of services are out there, what programs are out there they can avail of. We're seeing people who used to work part-time jobs," she said.

Abbott said some people who worked in hotels and restaurants are now out of work and have fallen on hard times. She said the first increase they saw was from people laid off from work who owned vehicles and were renting houses or apartments.

Kerri Abbott is the chairperson of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which operates a food bank in Carbonear. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

She described the agony of seeing a parent come in to the food bank for the first time.

"You can almost feel that they feel like a failure. I always tell them, and so do the volunteers, that they are one of the strongest people we know," she said.

"You're coming in and making that decision in the best interest of your family and you're not alone."

The Carbonear food bank typically sourced its own food through food drives and fundraising campaigns, but has been relying on the Community Food Sharing Association since the pandemic struck the province in March.

Abbott said the food bank stopped accepting donations early in the pandemic because she was unsure if they should be taking food. That led to shortages.

"There's nothing worse than looking at someone who is coming in to avail of a service and you've just run out of food. There's nothing worse in this world than looking at someone and saying I'm sorry, you came to us for help and we don't have anything to give you."

The Community Food Sharing Association doesn't just distribute food around the province, but also household items. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

Walters is hoping this year's fundraiser can stop that from happening when the Christmas season is over.

"When we start getting into January, food bank shelves are going to be empty. We're like little hamsters on that wheel. The faster the wheel goes, the faster we have to go."

Anyone looking to donate can visit www.cbc.ca/bekind. People who contributes or share a story about an act of kindness will be entered to win a prize.

Prizes include five custom cartoons from artist Kate Fudge, five prints by Monika Rumbolt of Alianait Designs, and five prints from Kelly Bastow. Winners will be selected each Friday.

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ryan Cooke is a journalist in St. John's.

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