The Harvest Food Bank in Port Hardy has seen a massive hike in usage since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the north Island.
“We had a bump during the loggers strike, and that had just started to peter out when the whole pandemic thing came along and bumped it back up to now where it’s higher than it was during the loggers strike,” stated food bank manager Andy Cornell, adding, “Our grocery program, which is the hampers, is actually up in the neighbourhood of 20-30 per cent, and that’s really where we’re seeing new people every week, people who’ve never come in before.”
Everybody who works at the food bank is a volunteer, and they have around two dozen volunteers in total who help out from time to time, but most of the senior volunteers have had to stay away due to COVID-19, so they are currently short staffed.
Despite this, the food bank continues to serve those in need during these unprecidented times.
“People who’ve always worked and supported themselves, all of a sudden they are finding it hard to make ends meet,” noted Cornell, “And a lot of people are just getting way less hours than they used to.”
He gave an example of one person who is currently using the food bank that used to be getting 36 hours a week but is now only getting 10, which is not enough to qualify for government aid, but clearly not enough to live on.
“Those are the type of people we’re seeing for the first time ever, and it’s all because of this whole COVID thing.”
Cornell added if it wasn’t for Save On Foods zero food waste program, which has saved a 120,000 lbs of food in four-and-a-half months, they would not “have all this fresh food to hand out.”
As for the Nanaimo food bank Loaves and Fishes now delivering food to the north Island, Cornell stated it hasn’t had that much effect on them at all.
“We’re not in anyway working or coordinating with them, and most people who go there come here as well. I definitely haven’t seen a dip in demand for us due to them coming up here.”
Above all else, Cornell wanted north Island residents to know that “we are all a community, this place is what we make of it, so the more we pull together, the better a community we will have for all of us.”