Meals banks in Montreal put together for a surge amid the COVID-19 pandemic
Montreal’s food banks are working hard to meet the expected growing demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic
Only one board remains open in Lachine. Three to four other groups in the district had to close due to the plight of the virus.
Extended Hands is based in a church on the corner of St-Antoine Street and 32nd Avenue and is now in its 15th year.
The food bank feeds 75 to 100 families in a regular week. It already sees more people dropping by and is expecting even more people in need of help next week.
“When people are unemployed, they still have bills to pay, their kids are home eating more, and they’re waiting for their EI to come through,” said President Glynis Jenkins-Burton. “The demand has increased significantly.”
Previously, Jenkins-Burton said, the organization would have some food left over after its distribution day on Wednesday.
“But now we have nothing left. We are cleared out.”
Moisson Montréal is also preparing for increase
Extended Hands sources most of its groceries from Moisson Montréal, the larger organization that normally supplies food to around 250 groups in the Montreal area.
So far, Moisson Montréal has managed to stay one step ahead of the pandemic, but managing director Richard Daneau said he has seen some changes in the past few weeks.
Thirty percent of the small food banks have closed their doors and that has resulted in many evictions.
“Agency A closes. Then Agency B calls to say we need more food to serve Agency A’s clients,” explained Daneau.
So far, demand has remained stable, but he assumes that that will change. “There will be an economic decline. There will be more people in need.”
The Tafel has teamed up with the city to cope with the boom. In return for supplying the city with fruit, vegetables, cheese and muesli bars to feed the homeless, city workers take the place of the volunteers.
A Montreal firefighter volunteers at the Moisson Montréal food bank in Montreal on Friday. (Paul Chiasson / The Canadian Press)
Moisson Montréal sources most of its groceries from major retailers and manufacturers such as Kraft, Kellogg’s, Danone and General Mills. Daneau believes this will continue as usual and that despite what he calls “strange behaviors” the food distribution system has been stable over the past few weeks.
“We believe there may be bottlenecks right now, but the system will rebalance itself.”
Moisson Montréal is topped up by the federal government – on Friday Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced US $ 100 million for tables and breakfast clubs.
Trudeau acknowledged that food banks are facing challenges with fewer donations than they would normally receive and fewer volunteers.
“The work of the panels is essential,” he said.
So that everyone is safe
Some changes have been made to Extended Hands to keep clients and volunteers safe.
Instead of the regular group of 15 to 20 volunteers, it now gets by with six volunteers. They keep social distance and constantly clean their premises.
In the past, customers would come with their own bags and go from table to table to choose their own food. But worried about the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the volunteers are now collecting bags of groceries and distributing them to each family.
A volunteer at Extended Hands prepares grocery bags for people who need them. (Submitted by Bishop David Burton)
The organization is no longer asking for a $ 4 donation from people picking up food; Jenkins-Burton says it seems too much to ask in these times.
But the group’s expenses have yet to be paid. It now has to buy plastic bags to distribute the groceries and it still has to rent a truck once a week to collect groceries from Moisson Montréal.
Jenkins-Burton says at this point they don’t ask for volunteers, but food and cash donations are welcome.