Times Colonist

Love at heart of Mus­tard Seed food bank

- DAR­REN STONE, TIMES COLONIST Hunger · Food Industry · Healthy Living · Healthy Food · Social Issues · Society · Industries · Charity · Queens · Foodbanks · Canadian Association of Food Banks

Re­nate Rau­daschl, left, and Detlev Schwartz sort through res­cued gro­cery store pro­duce at the Mus­tard Seed food se­cu­rity dis­tri­bu­tion cen­tre on Fri­day.

The emer­gence of new agen­cies pro­vid­ing help to vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple dur­ing the COVID-19 pan­demic is putting ad­di­tional pres­sure on Vic­to­ria’s Mus­tard Seed Street Church and other food banks across the coun­try, of­fi­cials say.

Food Banks Canada says that nearly one in ev­ery two food banks is pro­vid­ing sup­port to an emer­gency pro­gram in ad­di­tion to groups that usu­ally re­ceive food.

“A lot of peo­ple were very gen­er­ous in their com­mu­ni­ties and wanted to help peo­ple,” said Kirstin Beard­s­ley, chief net­work ser­vices of­fi­cer. “It’s a fun­da­men­tal thing that folks wanted to do. So food banks found them­selves in a po­si­tion to sup­ply food be­yond their usual set of obli­ga­tions.”

That’s cer­tainly true in Vic­to­ria, where the Mus­tard Seed’s food dis­tri­bu­tion cen­tre sup­plies more than 75 agen­cies that, in turn, pass food on to school lunch pro­grams, se­niors hous­ing, In­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties and more.

“As well as sup­ply­ing our food bank over on Queens Av­enue with prod­uct, the need of agen­cies has grown im­mensely,” said Treska Wat­son, food se­cu­rity man­ager.

“We’ve had sev­eral new agen­cies join our food share net­work be­cause of COVID-19. Sev­eral new non-prof­its were born and every­one in this sec­tor is look­ing at ways to serve what we call un­der-served com­mu­ni­ties.”

So far, Wat­son said, the Mus­tard Seed, which re­ceives sup­port from the Times Colonist Christ­mas Fund, has been able to cope with the ad­di­tional need be­cause of peo­ple’s gen­eros­ity as well as the fact that gro­cery stores have re­mained open and busy through the pan­demic. The food dis­tri­bu­tion cen­tre picks up 8,000 to 10,000 pounds of fresh prod­ucts from gro­cery stores ev­ery day and de­liv­ers them to mem­ber agen­cies within 24 hours.

“So while our de­mand has in­creased, we’ve been able to meet that de­mand with all of the res­cued food prod­ucts,” she said. “It’s one of the sil­ver lin­ings of COVID, in that, at least we’re able to pro­vide some nu­tri­tious food to folks that need it and we have not had to turn any­one away as of yet.”

Wat­son cau­tioned, how­ever, that things can al­ways change, de­pend­ing on the shop­ping habits of con­sumers. “We’ve had quite a few lean weeks re­cently where we’re not get­ting as much from the stores,” she said. “But we’re al­ways hope­ful and Vic­to­ria has proven it­self to be a very gen­er­ous city with the Rapid Re­lief Fund and lots of other ways.

“So we’re hop­ing the gen­eros­ity con­tin­ues as the pan­demic con­tin­ues.”

As COVID-19 cases surge across the coun­try, Beard­s­ley of Food Banks Canada said it’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that food bank work­ers have been on the front lines since the start of the pan­demic.

“They haven’t taken a break, a day off. They haven’t stopped pro­vid­ing an es­sen­tial ser­vice,” she said.

“One of the wor­ries I hon­estly do have is the burnout and men­tal well-be­ing of th­ese peo­ple who’ve shown up for their com­mu­ni­ties and the ex­haus­tion they must feel. It’s some­thing we’re mon­i­tor­ing and we’re pro­vid­ing sup­ports.

“But just a note, if I may, to not for­get your food bank as the hol­i­day sea­son ap­proaches.”

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