Just like so many other non-profits, the Community Harvest Food Bank has seen some major changes to its services since the start of COVID-19.
In a presentation to Castlegar city council recently, food bank president Deb McIntosh laid out those changes.
One of the major shifts has been an increase in supports for the homeless and those on the verge of becoming homeless.
The food bank has spent more than $20,000 housing about 20 people in motels since the start of the pandemic. This is double their usual budget. Part of the increase is due to the fact that COVID-19 protocols are preventing the food bank from housing more than one person at a time in the shelter the organization operates.
They have also expanded their services to provide things like tents and sleeping bags to people who are already living on the streets.
For those who are vulnerable to homelessness, the organization has been helping with rent and utility payments. Bus tickets, masks and coffee cards are just a few of the other things being provided to clients.
Last year, the food bank operated an overnight warming centre on nights when temperatures dropped below -5 Celsius. But this year, that’s not an option.
The other major change has been stopping in-person services at the food bank’s physical location. Hampers and meals are now delivered door to door.
The demand for meals has grown by about 25 per cent since the start of the pandemic.
Food bank volunteers are out three times a week delivering meals to about 100 clients.
McIntosh says they have also seen a shift in client demographics, with more seniors requesting services.
There have also been fewer requests from what has historically been the organization’s primary users — people on disability or social assistance payments.
McIntosh thinks that is because many people in those categories qualified for COVID-19 relief payments.
“With the bump up in their cheques they are not using the food bank the way they had before,” she said.
”So it just shows that extra little bit of money to bring them up really counts for something.”
McIntosh says delivering services door to door has meant a number of challenges for both staff and clients.
“It makes it difficult because our clients want to talk, they’re lonely, they’re upset, they miss the physical and emotional contact we were able to give them.”
The food bank has been partnering with the Selkirk College nursing program, and McIntosh says having a street outreach program has made a difference in the community.
This has been especially helpful as the need for harm reduction services has increased. The nursing students recently helped with a naloxone training outreach event.
Moving into the future, McIntosh’s biggest concerns are a lack of affordable or supportive housing and a lack of mental health and substance abuse services in the region.
With a handful of homeless camps popping up around the city, she’d also like to see the city provide more portable toilets and a means for people to shower in the winter.
McIntosh acknowledges solving poverty and homelessness is a very difficult task.
“Some of them can’t be helped and we know that,” said McIntosh. “But at the end of the day they are people and community members and they need our compassion, empathy, understanding and advocacy to make sure they are taken care of.”