In our new normal, there are a lot of things that aren’t the same as they were a few short weeks ago. There are also things that have changed less than we might imagine, but have been made more clear to us. One of these is the precariousness of life for many people within our own community. Another is care and concern that is coming from all parts of our community. I am proud of the way people are pulling together to help each other out in many different ways.
Shortly after the reality of COVID-19 started to become apparent, a group of people started a page on Facebook dedicated to helping people in Huron and Perth counties find help, offer help and basically connect with each other during these difficult times. One day a discussion started on that page about helping people in other countries who do not have access to food, medical treatment, and in fact, even what we would consider basic necessities such as water and bathrooms. Quite a passionate debate developed as local people jumped in to comment about the needs right here in our own neighbourhood.
Around that time, I got a notice about a program that I knew nothing about. “Founded in 1998 by the late Paul Mistele, a pork producer from Elgin County, the “Donate-A-Hog program” was an initiative of Feed Ontario and Ontario Pork. “This program raises funds to help Ontario’s food banks purchase pork, a much-needed protein item, for distribution to Ontarians living with chronic hunger.” While this program has been in place for several years, the current situation added the complexity of producers not being able to get hogs processed. Donations at this time helped address both issues.
Fast forward a few weeks and Feed Ontario, in partnership with local food banks and Food Banks Canada, and using a generous contribution from the Government of Ontario, announced their COVID-19 Emergency Food Box Program. This program was “designed to help food banks across the province address multiple challenges resulting from COVID-19 with a single solution.”
The North Huron Food Share, located at 405 Josephine Street in Wingham, received 760 Emergency Food Boxes, which have been distributed by local volunteers to low income housing and low income seniors’ housing in Blyth, Wingham, Teeswater and Brussels. Each hamper provides approximately seven days’ worth of food per person.
By combining efforts in a centralized location, the program helps to address local labour shortages, support physical distancing measures and meet the surge in demand for food bank services. The Emergency Food Box Program was developed in a matter of weeks, with the generous support of business and industry partners, including financial contributions from Metro Ontario Inc, Ontario Power Generation, Hydro One, Ontario Toyota Dealers and Toyota Canada, Grain Farmers of Ontario, Dairy Farmers of Ontario, National Bank of Canada, the Elementary Teacher’s Federation of Ontario and logistics support from AMJ Campbell. A $30 donation will provide one Emergency Food Box for someone in need. To learn more and find out how to help, visit https://feedontario.ca/covid19.
Joyce Johnston, Operations Manager of the North Huron Community Food Share, explains that they have had to reach out more to people than in the past because people are staying home and not accessing services the way they may have done previously. “We pride ourselves on our shopping model where clients can choose what they want,” she explains. However, under current conditions, which Johnston expects to last for some time, people are not allowed into the building. Volunteers box the food and bring it out to clients in the parking lot. “They make a list and we try to accommodate as much as possible.”
“We have seen some new clients – we have had an increase of about 30 new families that have experienced difficulty because of job layoffs and businesses shutting down. We know that this is going to be a marathon not a sprint – so we want people to know that we are there to help and we have the resources to be able to help them,” says Johnston.
While the food bank is experiencing more demand, it has also seen a great response from the community for donations and for volunteers as well. “We are getting great donations now. People are reaching out to us because they know there is going to be a need,” Johnston says. Bruce Power has made a substantial donation as well as local producers through Feed Ontario.
Local producers donated 960 litres of milk that was processed through Gay Lea, eggs have been donated, as well as a skid of frozen chickens that would normally have been destined for restaurants. “We also get all sorts of fresh produce from the Huron County Food Distribution Center including potatoes, carrots, apples, tomatoes and cucumbers,” explains Johnston.
Money destined for school lunch programs was donated to the United Way, who in cooperation with the Huron County Food Distribution Center used the money to make snack bags for kids. School snack bags include drinking boxes, pudding cups, apples, carrots, cucumbers, smoothy drinks and granola bars.
The North Huron Community Food Share welcomes anyone who has difficulty putting food on the table, regardless of age, family or employment status. It is open to serve clients each Wednesday morning and can be reached for an appointment by calling 519-357-2277, ext 4. ◊