Nfld. & Labrador

When you can't afford to hoard, what happens then?

Organizations are stepping up where they can for vulnerable populations who are often at the losing end of COVID-19 panic purchasing.

Organizations stepping up where they can for vulnerable populations at losing end of COVID-19 panic

University of Regina researchers are studying human waste samples to help predict the severity of COVID-19 in the city. (Ariana Kelland/CBC)

Amid the panic over the prospect of weeks in self-isolation due to the spread of COVID-19, essential items like food and toiletries are flying off the shelves.

Panic purchasing is leaving many grocery aisles barren across Newfoundland and Labrador, resulting in bare cupboards for the most vulnerable.

"It's not an ideal collective community response," said Stella's Circle CEO Lisa Browne.

People with the knowledge and financial ability to buy mass amounts of goods do so at the detriment of people already living on the fringes of society.

The run on hand sanitizer is an example.

Stella's Circle CEO Lisa Browne says hundreds of meals are being whipped up for people in need during the coronavirus pandemic. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

Washing your hands with soap and water is one of the most effective ways to protect yourself and others from COVID-19. However, there are people in the community who don't have access to running water and can't afford to buy soap.

"I would love to be able to give our participants hand sanitizer — personal ones — for their own use, but it's just not possible to get them,' Browne said in an interview by phone Wednesday.

"It's another example of that sort of mentality that marginalizes people even more than they are in everyday life."

The issue of food insecurity was highlighted in January when a savage winter storm shuttered parts of the province for days on end.

When groceries store were allowed to open, some shoppers remarked on how kind and fair one another were. Carts weren't toppling over with just one particular item (aside from storm chips).

Now, two months later, the mentality appears to have shifted.

"I get it, there's a lot of anxiety and people are into protective mode," Browne said, "But I think it is important to think, 'Do I need 20 pounds of hand sanitizer or can I get away with two?'"

Suzanne Brake, seniors' advocate, said so-called Snowmageddon was an opportunity to show how much we are about each other in the province.

"I said at that time, I wonder if this will continue," Brake told The St. John's Morning Show. "It needs to continue now."

Back at Stella's Circle, there are two frames of mind that Browne sees; there are people who don't have access to the internet and aren't aware of the extent of the pandemic, while others wish they had the resources to buy what they need. The coronavirus has put a strain on operations, too, Browne said.

The Hungry Heart Café is making hundreds of meals for people in need, and are now searching for a freezer, which is hard to find.

"We want people to be safe but we also know we have a population that really needs our services," she said.

Healthy? The food bank wants you

Other organizations and volunteer groups are sharing the same pain.

Bridges to Hope has suspended operations for the safety of its staff and clients, who use the Cookstown Road volunteer group for access to food.

Parish of St. Michael and All Angels posted a plea on its Facebook page this week for food bank volunteers under the age of 60.

The majority of the volunteers at Emmaus House at senior citizens who are most at risk if they contract the virus, the post said.

Compassion fund

The United Way sees the gaps and those who quietly fall through them.

Businessman Tom Rose, who owns Atlantic Business Interiors, approached the organization this week with the promise to match up to $100,000 to the United Way's compassion fund for the four Atlantic provinces.

"The goal is it will support people most impacted right now," said Tammy Davis of United Way Newfoundland and Labrador.

"That could be those who are precariously employed, homeless, those with mental illness."

United Way is in the process of establishing the criteria by which registered charities can avail of the funds.

Empty shelves are seen at a Superstore grocery store in Richmond, B.C., on Tuesday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"If you're an individual who has to wait until Friday to get some money in your bank account and you go to the store, and I've seen photos where there's no fresh food, no fresh fruit, no vegetables … no basics. They can't even do the normal things to prepare when they're able to because of the empty shelves," Davis said.

The compassion fund is meant to complement, not duplicate government support.

The Prince Edward Island government has pledged $250,000 toward the fund for its province.

Davis said individuals who want their donations to go straight to Newfoundland and Labrador can do so on the United Way website.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Ariana Kelland

Investigative reporter

Ariana Kelland is a reporter with the CBC Newfoundland and Labrador bureau in St. John's. She is working as a member of CBC's Atlantic Investigative Unit.

With files from The St. John's Morning Show and Adam Walsh