A happenstance meeting with a man on a bicycle, who couldn’t afford a car or food for his three children, highlighted the need for changes to St. Paul’s food bank for United Church Minister Marie Barr.
She ran across the man as he was leaving the church and he asked her to pray for him. When she asked him what was the matter, she learned he had been out of work for three weeks and was struggling to find a way to feed his family. He had gone to the local food bank but had been unable to get food there.
“It just made me sick that there’s people out there going hungry,” she said. Barr was able to access food for the man and his family through another source, but she wanted to see an improvement in the way the food bank functioned, since there was “a lack of consistent service” for the people who need help. “St. Paul’s much too large to have a food bank that doesn’t function well,” she said. “It’s a critical need.”
Barr’s concerns precipitated the issue coming up at inter-agency meetings, attended by community group representatives and the Mannawanis Native Friendship Centre, which houses the food bank.
Linda Boone, director for Town of St. Paul FCSS, said one of the ideas that came up was to form a committee or a board to support or enhance the food bank service. The hours of the food bank “may not be enough to meet the demand” for the service, while at times in the past, there have been food shortages, she said of issues that came up in the meetings.
“Nobody should go hungry. It would be nice if we had a service that was available as often as possible,” she said. Attracting more volunteers, increasing the food bank hours, and finding ways to increase the food supply are all matters that need to be addressed, Boone noted.
Mannawanis’ executive director, Hinano Rosa, is also in support of any improvements that could be made to the service. He notes that the food bank coordinator had been running the food bank for two years without complaint. However, due to a cut in funding, the centre had to lay off that employee and she started coming in only as a volunteer.
“If you have volunteers, they are not consistent,” he noted. After hearing of the case Barr brought forward, he found out there were a few other situations where people had not received food or were turned away. “Operation of the food bank wasn’t as much as we should have.”
He said based on input at the meetings, changes have been put into place to the food bank, such as trying to make sure it is open daily and that it has a separate entrance to help preserve anonymity and separate it from the Mannawanis Native Friendship Centre.
“This is the town’s food bank; this is not the Friendship Centre’s food bank,” he said, adding he’s happy to hear talk of a committee being formed to help create a partnership between community members in the running of the food bank.
Barr added that making sure people don’t go hungry is not just the responsibility of those at the friendship centre, but the entire community. “I just know there’s food out there, and there are people that are hungry and we need to put the two together,” she later added.
People who are interested in joining a potential board or committee should be passionate about the food bank and the service it provides, she said. If interested, people can contact Linda Boone at the Town of St. Paul FCSS department, at 780-645-5311 or Barr at the United Church of Canada, 780-645-3266.
Barr was hopeful changes could be made to the food bank to ensure it served the people who most needed it, adding, “It takes a lot of volunteers and it takes a lot of people who care.”