Not everyone who receives assistance from a local food bank is unemployed or on income support, although that is the widespread belief.
Kerri Abbott —a dedicated community volunteer — had little knowledge about running and organizing a food bank when she began volunteering with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul last July. But after taking on the role of president, she quickly tried to debunk the stigma.
Many who request the assistance of these services are working part-time or minimum wage jobs. The term for these people is working poor.
Kerri, a Carbonear resident, has added the term to her regular vocabulary.
“The working poor are those who are working, but sometimes they only make enough to either have shelter or buy food. Not both,” Kerri told The Compass March 27 at the Carbonear food bank on St. Clare Avenue. “Most people would pick shelter.”
She explained most of those using the food bank have some sort of employment, but with abnormally high electricity bills after the blackout in January and inflation of living expenses, a job is not always enough to make ends meet.
“We’ve been getting about 10 new clients a week since Christmas,” Kerri said. “Usually at least eight are working.”
There are times Kerri isn’t sure they’ll have enough food and other supplies to meet the demand, which is difficult because the organization is self-sufficient.
The only support outside of community donations is two monthly pallets from the Canadian Food Sharing Association. The items are random, and may contain items other than food.
“We aren’t subsidized,” she explained. “If we don’t get help from the community — no financial (support) or food donations — we wouldn’t be able to help people.”
Kerri says the same of the 20-plus volunteers.
Just recently stock was so low, some cupboards were bare and there wasn’t enough food to make hampers.
On March 14, Kerri shared a photo on social media depicting empty shelves in the pantry of the food bank. And she admits she wasn't sure she should share it out of fear there could be some backlash from those who saw the picture, which there was.
One person commented that people who use the food bank are on income support and waste their money on cigarettes and alcohol, demonstrating a misconception that people on income support fall into one category.
But many people disagreed, and it wasn’t long before donations started pouring in.
Two weeks later, the shelves have started to go bare again.
“We have tripled our number of clients since this time last year,” Kerri explained. “And what we normally see (in donations) is food with little nutritional value.”
There were more than 140 families served by the food bank in March.
Inside several already prepared hampers for couples are cans of soup, canned pastas, Gatorade and some other items not generally classified as healthy. The volunteers try to be as balanced as possible, providing the same items to everyone.
Kerri explains the organization takes more than non-perishable items, and would like to see healthier alternatives for families with children.
Other donations accepted
In a room across the hall from the pantry is a large selection of personal and toiletry items, including baby diapers, deodorant and a small bin filled with toothbrushes.
“Many people don’t know we take these items,” Kerri said.
Everything is organized neatly, so someone could easily access something they may not be comfortable asking for, like toilet paper.
Across from the toiletries are a fridge and a freezer. The fridge contained more than a dozen containers of margarine. The freezer is where bread is kept, but the racks were empty.
“We’ve went through 40 loaves since I bought them Sunday,” she explained.
For those who are able and willing to give, the organization also accepts gift cards. This enables Kerri to purchase items low in stock such as flour and bread. Other items that Kerri say the organization needs are stuff for children’s lunches, babies items, clothes detergent, razors and shaving cream.
No funding, no maintenance
Because the organization is not-for-profit, it is difficult to keep the building in good condition.
Eleven windows in the building’s bottom floor were broken after a robbery, but the organization hasn’t been able to afford to fix them.
Its monthly expenses cost between $1,200 and $1,500, including heat and light, food items and delivery costs for the Canadian Food Sharing Association donations from St. John's.
The building belongs to St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church, but Kerri said they don't pay rent.
She hopes for the building to one day be energy efficient, but said it has to begin somewhere, starting with the windows.
“Hopefully, we'll be able to get started on those this summer,” she explained.
Not just a food bank
Several years ago, Kerri said there were 11 or 12 food banks on the Baccalieu Trail. Now, she can count them on one hand.
She also added many of the volunteers can also help those who would like information on income support and other government programs they may have questions about.
"We are also about poverty reduction," Kerri said. "Even if someone just wants to talk with us, we are here."
Anyone interested in making a donation to the St. Vincent de Paul food bank in Carbonear can stop by the building directly behind the Knights of Columbus, in front of the community garden.