When the pandemic’s first wave took hold in Niagara, the role of local food banks became even more critical.
The mandated shutdown of the economy forced many to rely on such assistance to get by. It also forced some serious juggling of logistics to safely operate a food bank. Just ask Susan Mark at Pelham Cares, where, under normal circumstances, it’s up to two part-time staff and a team of dedicated volunteers to ensure those in need get access to food.
During the pandemic, the number of people in the building had to be limited, said Mark, the Pelham Cares treasurer. That slowed down both the organizing and distribution of food. Most of the organization’s volunteers are also seniors, who weren’t comfortable with their usual work of going to grocery stores to buy food for
clients. The food bank switched to bulk purchasing instead where possible. But that posed another conundrum. Where would the large orders of protein, such as frozen chicken, be stored? The food bank needed to purchase freezer space, yet its usual fundraising events, including a community dance, simply weren’t possible in an age of physical distancing.
A grant worth $5,000 from the Niagara Community Foundation solved that problem. A timely collaboration with Open Arms Wainfleet allowed Pelham Cares to install their new 20-cubic-foot freezer there. The grant also covered travel costs for volunteers to drive to and from Wainfleet to retrieve the frozen food. In addition, Pelham Cares could pay its two part-time workers a weekly COVID-19 income supplement as they worked through a 31 per cent increase in demand for their services.
“We certainly appreciated the funding,” Mark said. “The thing is, there’s uncertainty about this year. With 2021, everyone thought we would go back to normal but we’re certainly not. We’re trying to be cautious and use the funds wisely because we could see another big spike in demand for our services.”