Food bank us­age on the in­crease

Spokesper­son for Car­bon­ear lo­ca­tion says she’s see­ing more ‘work­ing poor’ clients

The Compass - - NEWS - BYMELISSA JENK­INS Melissa.jenk­

Not ev­ery­one who re­ceives as­sis­tance from a lo­cal food bank is un­em­ployed or on in­come sup­port, al­though that is the wide­spread be­lief.

Kerri Ab­bott —a ded­i­cated com­mu­nity vol­un­teer — had lit­tle knowl­edge about run­ning and or­ga­niz­ing a food bank when she be­gan vol­un­teer­ing with the So­ci­ety of St. Vin­cent de Paul last July. But af­ter tak­ing on the role of pres­i­dent, she quickly tried to de­bunk the stigma.

Many who re­quest the as­sis­tance of these ser­vices are work­ing part-time or min­i­mum wage jobs. The term for these people is work­ing poor.

Kerri, a Car­bon­ear res­i­dent, has added the term to her reg­u­lar vo­cab­u­lary.

“The work­ing poor are those who are work­ing, but some­times they only make enough to ei­ther have shel­ter or buy food. Not both,” Kerri told The Com­pass March 27 at the Car­bon­ear food bank on St. Clare Av­enue. “Most people would pick shel­ter.”

She ex­plained most of those us­ing the food bank have some sort of em­ploy­ment, but with ab­nor­mally high elec­tric­ity bills af­ter the black­out in Jan­uary and in­fla­tion of liv­ing ex­penses, a job is not al­ways enough to make ends meet.

“We’ve been get­ting about 10 new clients a week since Christ­mas,” Kerri said. “Usu­ally at least eight are work­ing.” Bare min­i­mum There are times Kerri isn’t sure they’ll have enough food and other sup­plies to meet the de­mand, which is dif­fi­cult be­cause the or­ga­ni­za­tion is self-suf­fi­cient.

The only sup­port out­side of com­mu­nity do­na­tions is two monthly pal­lets from the Cana­dian Food Shar­ing As­so­ci­a­tion. The items are ran­dom, and may con­tain items other than food.

“We aren’t sub­si­dized,” she ex­plained. “If we don’t get help from the com­mu­nity — no fi­nan­cial (sup­port) or food do­na­tions — we wouldn’t be able to help people.” Kerri says the same of the 20-plus vol­un­teers. Just re­cently stock was so low, some cup­boards were bare and there wasn’t enough food to make ham­pers.

On March 14, Kerri shared a photo on so­cial me­dia de­pict­ing empty shelves in the pantry of the food bank. And she ad­mits she wasn’t sure she should share it out of fear there could be some back­lash from those who saw the pic­ture, which there was.

One per­son com­mented that people who use the food bank are on in­come sup­port and waste their money on cig­a­rettes and al­co­hol, demon­strat­ing a mis­con­cep­tion that people on in­come sup­port fall into one cat­e­gory.

But many people dis­agreed, and it wasn’t long be­fore do­na­tions started pour­ing in.

Two weeks later, the shelves have started to go bare again.

“We have tripled our num­ber of clients since this time last year,” Kerri ex­plained. “And what we nor­mally see (in do­na­tions) is food with lit­tle nu­tri­tional value.”

There were more than 140 fam­i­lies served by the food bank in March.

In­side sev­eral al­ready pre­pared ham­pers for cou­ples are cans of soup, canned pas­tas, Ga­torade and some other items not gen­er­ally clas­si­fied as healthy. The vol­un­teers try to be as bal­anced as pos­si­ble, pro­vid­ing the same items to ev­ery­one.

Kerri ex­plains the or­ga­ni­za­tion takes more than non-per­ish­able items, and would like to see health­ier al­ter­na­tives for fam­i­lies with chil­dren.

Other do­na­tions ac­cepted

In a room across the hall from the pantry is a large se­lec­tion of per­sonal and toi­letry items, in­clud­ing baby di­a­pers, de­odor­ant and a small bin filled with tooth­brushes.

“Many people don’t know we take these items,” Kerri said.

Ev­ery­thing is or­ga­nized neatly, so some­one could eas­ily ac­cess some­thing they may not be com­fort­able ask­ing for, like toi­let paper.

Across from the toi­letries are a fridge and a freezer. The fridge con­tained more than a dozen con­tain­ers of mar­garine. The freezer is where bread is kept, but the racks were empty.

“We’ve went through 40 loaves since I bought them Sun­day,” she ex­plained.

For those who are able and will­ing to give, the or­ga­ni­za­tion also ac­cepts gift cards. This en­ables Kerri to pur­chase items low in stock such as flour and bread. Other items that Kerri say the or­ga­ni­za­tion needs are stuff for chil­dren’s lunches, ba­bies items, clothes de­ter­gent, ra­zors and shav­ing cream.

No fund­ing, no main­te­nance

Be­cause the or­ga­ni­za­tion is not-for-profit, it is dif­fi­cult to keep the build­ing in good con­di­tion.

Eleven win­dows in the build­ing’s bot­tom floor were bro­ken af­ter a rob­bery, but the or­ga­ni­za­tion hasn’t been able to af­ford to fix them.

Its monthly ex­penses cost be­tween $1,200 and $1,500, in­clud­ing heat and light, food items and de­liv­ery costs for the Cana­dian Food Shar­ing As­so­ci­a­tion do­na­tions from St. John’s.

The build­ing be­longs to St. Patrick’s Ro­man Catholic Church, but Kerri said they don’t pay rent.

She hopes for the build­ing to one day be en­ergy ef­fi­cient, but said it has to be­gin some­where, start­ing with the win­dows.

“Hope­fully, we’ll be able to get started on those this sum­mer,” she ex­plained. Not just a food bank Sev­eral years ago, Kerri said there were 11 or 12 food banks on the Bac­calieu Trail. Now, she can count them on one hand.

She also added many of the vol­un­teers can also help those who would like in­for­ma­tion on in­come sup­port and other govern­ment pro­grams they may have ques­tions about.

“We are also about poverty re­duc­tion,” Kerri said. “Even if some­one just wants to talk with us, we are here.”

Any­one in­ter­ested in mak­ing a do­na­tion to the St. Vin­cent de Paul food bank in Car­bon­ear can stop by the build­ing di­rectly be­hind the Knights of Columbus, in front of the com­mu­nity gar­den.

Photo by Melissa Jenk­ins/The Com­pass

Pres­i­dent of the Car­bon­ear chap­ter of the So­ci­ety of St. Vin­cent de Paul, Kerri Ab­bott, helps place do­nated items on the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s nearly empty shelves.

One of the win­dows at the food bank is cov­ered with ply­wood and a garbage bag to keep the cold out.

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