Nova Scotia

Cape Bretoners donate unused vacation money to food bank

The pandemic has affected the Glace Bay Food Bank in two ways. The number of clients in need is down a bit, but cash donations from the public are way up.

Glace Bay Food Bank says need actually fell over the last year, but extra cash meant extra groceries

The Glace Bay Food Bank, only open on weekdays, serves up to 60 hot meals a day upstairs, while volunteers hand out up to 25 food hampers a day downstairs. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

The number of people needing a meal or a food hamper was down a bit last year at Nova Scotia's Glace Bay Food Bank, and cash donations from the public were way up.

Co-ordinator Michelle Kalbhenn said the drop in need was due to some people getting emergency pandemic funding from the government.

The pandemic also meant travel was restricted, so some people had extra money to give to the food bank, she said, but that doesn't mean the organization is flush with cash.

"Some people say, 'This is our vacation money. Since we can't leave, here, use it to help somebody,'" Kalbhenn said.

The food bank received several large donations and a whole lot of smaller ones, she said.

"I would say a minimum of $50,000 extra came into the bank this year and ... when I say came in the bank, it comes in and it goes out just as quick, because I'm constantly buying groceries," Kalbhenn said.

Glace Bay Food Bank co-ordinator Michelle Kalbhenn says the number of people needing food was down last year, but cash donations from the public were way up. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

"Our grocery bill in a year is $60,000 minimum, so this year I was just able to buy a little bit more."

Upstairs at the food bank, up to 60 hot meals are served every weekday morning between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m.

Downstairs, volunteers hand out up to 25 food hampers a day that clients can pick up once a month.

Kalbhenn said most of the groceries are donated by local stores or through Feed Nova Scotia.

The cash donations are important, though, because they allow the food bank to ensure every meal is complete and every hamper is full.

It also means being able to supplement hampers for clients when necessary, without having to shop around for discount products.

"They're walking out with a banana box full [of food] and you can barely lift it, it's that heavy, and then you have three, four, sometimes even five Sobeys recyclable bags full of stuff," Kalbhenn said.

"We make sure that everybody has everything that they could need."

Cash donations have also come in handy for projects around the food bank, she said, such as adding a wheelchair ramp. A grant covered most of the cost, but lumber prices rose rapidly. The donations covered that extra cost, she said. 

Fewer international students

Marco Amati, general manager at the Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen in Sydney, said donations have been steady, but the kitchen has noticed the loss of international students.

"Our numbers have gone down a bit, but I mean, there's still a need out there," he said.

General manager Marco Amati says Loaves and Fishes tries to feed each person who needs a meal and by switching to take-out only, has been able to meet its goal during the pandemic. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

The dining room closed last year at the start of the pandemic and has been serving take-out meals only since then.

It is open every day from 10 a.m. to noon, seven days a week, holidays included. The organization is now averaging about 100 meals a day.

"The best thing is that we never had to close, so we just had to tweak what we do," Amati said.

"Our policy is to feed each person that needs a meal and ... we're doing that, so just thank God that we didn't have to close."

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tom Ayers

Reporter/Editor

Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for 36 years. He has spent half of them covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.

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