Volunteer driver Nadine Jones loads her vehicle for a delivery in Highlands East as part of an effort to help people with getting their groceries during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo submitted by Tina Jackson

Central Food Network offering help to anyone who needs it during health crisis

By Darren Lum

We are here to help: that’s the message from the Central Food Network a registered charity that includes the Highlands East Food Hub and the Cardiff Community Food Bank.

Carol Greenwood co-ordinator of the grocery delivery service offered through the Highlands East Food Hub and the Foodland in Wilberforce and chairperson of the Central Food Network for the past 18 months said the organization wants people to know they’re providing assistance.

“The main thing that we’re trying to get across is that we are here for people. We have a number of different programs we are offering that we can try and tailor to individual needs of individuals whether that’s needing food from the food bank because salaries have been interrupted or needing help to get groceries in the home. There are a variety of different programs that we have and it’s a great community with community spirit and please feel comfortable coming and use our services. We’re here to help” she said. “We’re still concerned that there are a number of people in the community that could benefit from our services but are not using them.”

Last month the Cardiff and Wilberforce food banks provided food to 155 individuals 44 of them children under 18 years old and 37 people over 60 years old. In the last week Wilberforce’s food bank saw an increase of between five and 10 households. Cardiff hasn’t yet seen an increase though some past clients have returned.

Cardiff Community Food Bank manager Cam McKenzie said his concern is not the short term but what will happen down the road.

“It’s going to be the long haul that I think is going to be an issue” he said.

The Wilberforce food bank is operating with regular hours but clients are asked to remain outside and a volunteer will provide a pre-made hamper of food. Delivery to clients can be arranged.

In addition volunteers from the food bank are co-ordinating with Wilberforce Foodland making deliveries to seniors those who are ill and those who should not be visiting the grocery store in person.

More than 50 deliveries have been made by 10 volunteer drivers who have driven an estimated 1000 kilometres since they started at the end of March. Deliveries are made six days a week throughout Highlands East. If an order has been placed by 10 a.m. the drivers will complete the order and make the delivery later that day.

Greenwood moved to Wilberforce three years ago after working as a professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto. It’s an area of study that applies to her volunteer role.

“Issues of food security have always been dear to my heart” she said. “You know being able to work with boots on the ground is something that I’m finding very rewarding.”

McKenzie had the same message as Greenwood when it comes to Cardiff.

“Anybody that needs help right now [is welcome] is the message we want to emphasize – that if you have never had to access a food bank if you need to do it now. Get ahold of us” he said. “Right now we’re worrying about registration after … It’s a situation none of us in this country maybe in the world have we faced what we’re dealing with now. We’re here to help the best we can.”

McKenzie who has been the manager for the past three years said there have been adjustments for the safety of clients and the food bank volunteers.

Due to the small size of the food bank building he said it was impossible to allow people to come and maintain the social distancing inside the building so a delivery program was initiated on April 1.

“I will phone them and let them know it’s coming and I just set it on their porch and set it on their step and no contact. They might wave at me from their window and we’re good to go” he said.

McKenzie and Kathy Blizzard make most of the deliveries in Cardiff.

The Highlands East councillor who has filled his time at the food bank instead of at council and committee meetings which were suspended during the health crisis adds another concern was about trying to enforce physical distancing in the parking lot where people cluster and socialize.

The system has also been good for the food bank spreading out the workload of two to three hours out over a week for the volunteers he said. Despite the food bank’s new practice of sanitizing before work during and after some volunteers have had to withdraw their services due to health concerns.

McKenzie said the Cardiff food bank clients have helped ensure their shelves don’t go completely bare by communicating what preferences they have instead of receiving anything they won’t eat or haven’t completely finished since the last order.

“It’s stretched out what we have here” he said.

The other important assist for the location was the support from Bancroft Foodland which sells bags of goods to the public to benefit the food bank allowing clients to have access to staples such as pasta and sauce he said.

How can the public help food banks?

Greenwood like McKenzie discourages the public from buying more groceries than they need.

She supports self-isolation to minimize exposure and welcomes financial support because the challenge isn’t food scarcity in the market but a lack of discounts.

“I must say across all of our food banks Minden Haliburton and Wilberforce/Cardiff the people have been extremely generous and we’re very grateful for that. On the other hand we see this going on for the long term and that our costs of being able to serve what we think is going to be a growing number of clients as people are suffering from loss wages. Yes trying to help us cover those costs would obviously be appreciated” Greenwood said.

McKenzie said the food bank shelves in Cardiff are not full but they will be “comfortable” to service clients for the next two weeks.

The challenge is finding a wholesaler that will enable a large purchase which is not possible with current purchase restrictions to discourage hoarding.

“We’ve had significant amount of financial support to Central Food Network. The bottle-neck now might be everyone in the same boat is to find a wholesaler who has product. That hasn’t happened for us yet” he said.

Anyone interested in being a client of either the Highlands Food Hub or the Cardiff Community Food Bank call 705-448-9711 or email tinajackson@centralfoodnetwork.org. For grocery deliveries call or email your grocery order to Foodland at 705-448-2811 or foodland7256@hotmail.com and be sure to include your name phone number and address.