Staff and volunteers hand out oodles of frozen chicken, bread and more on Loaves and Fishes last delivery of the year. Services will continue into 2021. (Zoe Ducklow | Gazette)

Staff and volunteers hand out oodles of frozen chicken, bread and more on Loaves and Fishes last delivery of the year. Services will continue into 2021. (Zoe Ducklow | Gazette)

Loaves and Fishes handed out around 300,000 pounds of food on the North Island

COVID-19 and the logging strike have made this year particularly difficult

Loaves and Fishes Community Food Bank wrapped up its first full year of services on the North Island on a cold, wet Wednesday in Port Hardy.

Masked volunteers and staff unloaded pre-organized bags and boxes of food to hand out to clients who drove up to the tables in front of the St. Columba’s Anglican United church on Granville St.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many things, including food bank operations. People used to come inside and browse for their food. Now it all happens outside and with pre-selected bags of food.

The need for food banks has increased, but so has surplus ingredients originally destined for restaurants.

This week Loaves and Fishes emptied 10 pallets of frozen chicken breasts, giving clients unlimited access. Earlier this year they had 30,000 tins of salmon, 50 skids of milk and before that, a three-month run of hundreds of thousands of eggs each week in the summer.

READ MORE: SLIDESHOW: North Island Gazette Hamper Fund 2020

READ MORE: Food bank use soars in north Island after logging strike and COVID-19

Based in Nanaimo, the charity has the infrastructure to handle this level of surplus food because of a food recovery program it started in 2011.

Every day, Loaves and Fishes picks up discarded food from grocery stores around Nanaimo. Volunteers sort the donations — edible food goes to people, anything going bad goes to farmers, and whatever the farms don’t take gets composted.

It’s a zero-waste solution that more than tripled the amount of food Loaves and Fishes distributes on the Island.

Last year they were invited to expand to the North Island with a three-month pilot project. The program was well received by the community, so in 2020 it was made permanent.

The Loaves and Fishes truck delivers between 5,000 and 7,000 pounds of food each week to the North Island, alternating drop-offs each week between Port Hardy and Port McNeill where food is distributed directly from the truck and through other agencies in the communities.

Loaves and Fishes also contributed a generous $15,000 towards the Gazette Christmas Hamper Fund, helping to make sure everyone gets a tasty Christmas dinner.

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