People Donations help Moncton food banks survive

Charles Edwards, a volunteer driver with the Food Depot Alimentaire, picks up bread products from a Metro Moncton grocery store for distribution to local food banks and soup kitchens. GREG AGNEW/TIMES & TRANSCRIPT


Donations help Moncton food banks survive

When it comes to providing Metro Moncton’s needy with their daily bread, a little bit of good will goes a long way.

Every day, a truck driven by a volunteer driver from the Moncton Food Depot Alimentaire makes the rounds to grocery stores in Moncton to pick up donated breads, cookies, sweets, pies and other baked goods that are redistributed to the food banks and soup kitchens around the city.

Yesterday was a typical day for volunteer driver Charles Edwards, who has been making the bread run for the Food Depot Alimentaire for about six years now. Over a period of four hours, he made the rounds to nine local stores to pick up bread and baked products that are nearing their best-before date and taken off the shelves. This is product that would otherwise be thrown away, but at the same time provides crucial support to the food banks and soup kitchens.

“I don’t know what we’d do without these donations,” says Ray Gould, director of the food depot, which supplies 21 food banks, soup kitchens and shelters throughout southeastern New Brunswick. Gould says the demand for food is draining the shelves of the depot and help is desperately needed.

May 7-11 is Hunger Awareness Week and it comes at a time when the local food depot is struggling to collect and distribute enough food to meet the increased demand in Metro Moncton and surrounding communities. The food bank this week kicked off a fundraising campaign with an immediate goal of $25,000 and an extended goal of $100,000 to help feed the food banks that feed the homeless, the needy and the working poor who are having trouble making ends meet on a limited income and a rising cost of living.

The food depot’s bread run begins at 8 a.m. sharp at the warehouse on MacNaughton Avenue, with Charles Edwards at the wheel of a big blue Chevy pickup truck.

The first stop is at the Sobeys on Elmwood Drive, where we collect three shopping carts full of breads, cookies, cakes, muffins, bagels, rolls and hot dog buns. We take everything out of the shopping carts and pack it into banana boxes. Charles says the banana boxes are great because they are strong, reusable and have built-in grab handles. He keeps a full load of them in the back of the truck and scrounges more wherever he travels.

After packing the bread into the back of the truck, Charles checks the Food Bank next to the checkouts, where shoppers can make donations of food. It is empty.

The next stop is the Costco on Mapleton Road, where two big shopping carts are waiting in the loading bay, filled with breads, rolls, croissants and many bags of bagels.

Charles makes a quick stop at the Superstore on Trinity Drive, where the donation box has a few bags of flour, spaghetti sauce and canned goods. These will be taken back to the warehouse to be packed into food boxes later.

At 8:50, we make a quick stop at Sobeys on Mountain Road, where the food donation box is empty. At the Co-op on Mapleton Road, the donation box is little more than a plastic bin under the bulletin board by the main door. There’s no food here, just some empty boxes, scraps of paper and receipts, making it look more like a garbage bin than a food donation box. Charles cleans it out to make it look more presentable.

We drive through the city, looking at all the election campaign signs and piles of trash. It’s not often that cleanup week and an election campaign coincide with each other.

At 9:10 a.m., we pull into the Sobeys on Vaughan Harvey to find another empty donation box and three shopping carts loaded with breads, cookies, cakes, and pies that are stuffed into banana boxes and loaded into the back of the truck.

At 9:30 a.m., we make our first drop off, to the food bank inside the YMCA off Vaughan Harvey Boulevard. In a corridor away from the main entrance, volunteers arrange food boxes for the clients who wait patiently with numbered cards in their hands. They come from nearby rooming houses and the downtown core to pick up canned goods, vegetables and bread products.

“We get pretty busy here, sometimes around 60 people in one day,” says Jaime MacLellan, co-ordinator of the YMCA Food Bank, which is open three days a week: Monday, Wednesday and Friday. She says Moncton is the only YMCA in Canada that operates a food bank, and that it was opened to fill the need when the High Street mobile pantry shut down.

“The majority of our clients are single men and people who live in the rooming houses, people with families and seniors. There are a lot of people who have trouble making ends meet, after they pay their rent, there’s not much left.”

At 9:45 a.m., we roll into the Ray of Hope soup kitchen in the basement of St. Augustine’s Roman Catholic Church on Mountain Road. Charles hands over some bread boxes to Danny Sisk and other volunteers.

“We serve meals five days a week and we usually get 55 to 70 or 80 people a day,” says Sisk. “Last year, we served 28,000 meals and we’ll have a lot more this year. From January to April we’ve already served 8,000. There’s a great need for help, especially at this time of year. The big donations come before Christmas when lots of people help out. But after Christmas people go back to their regular lives and forget about it, but this keeps going. It doesn’t stop.”

In the basement kitchen, a group of Grade 10 student volunteers from Mathieu-Martin High School are busy buttering rolls and chopping vegetables for use in the meal.

The next stop is at the Open Hands Food Bank on Mark Avenue, said to be New Brunswick’s busiest food bank. As we roll in at 10 a.m., the parking lot is full of cars and there is a line stretching from the waiting room through the front door and out into the street. Inside, volunteers are pulling food cans and boxes off the shelves to put into boxes for the clients in the waiting room. Volunteers lend a hand to carry the bread boxes inside.

“It’s getting crazy,” says Betty Surette, who has been running the Open Hands facility for years. “It’s only 10 a.m. and I’ve already served 73 families today. We’ll serve 500 to 600 families in a month.”

In the waiting room, clients — some with small children — sit patiently with hand-numbered yellow cards to be served. As Surette makes her way through the cramped chaos of the packed Open Hands building, a young woman tugs on the elbow of her sweater. She’s been waiting for a while and has an appointment with a counsellor at 11 a.m. She’s not sure what to do. Surette promises to help her in a few minutes.

Surette says the food banks are always in need of more donations and help from the public.

“Every little bit helps.”

The next stop is an ordinary-looking brick apartment building near the Moncton Coliseum which serves as a shelter for Crossroads for Women. We unload boxes filled with canned goods, bread, food and things like toothpaste for residents. As we carry the boxes inside, a tiny little girl clutching her bottle smiles and waves from the top of the stairs next to the laundry room.

We make another pickup of bread at the McBuns bakery on Mountain Road, then go across town to the Sobeys locations on Regis Street and Champlain Place. Here, more shopping carts loaded with bread are waiting. The customer donation box at Regis Street is empty, but there are few bags of food in the box at Champlain Place.

We arrive at the Karing Kitchen in Downtown Moncton just as the church bells are chiming high noon. In the kitchen, volunteers are loading plates and clients are taking their places at the long tables, out of the rain.

“The numbers are increasing a lot,” says Phyllis Perry, who runs the kitchen. “We don’t count the number of people but they are allowed two meals and we serve 450 to 500 meals, five days a week, Monday to Friday from 11 to 1.”

Perry says the number of people coming into the soup kitchen for a meal usually starts out low at the beginning of the month, but they increase as the month goes on and people run out of money.

“Thanks goodness for the food bank. I was going to make egg sandwiches tomorrow and now I have bread to do it,” she says as volunteers carry in the boxes of bread collected by the food depot truck.

John (who didn’t want his last name published), a retired man who grew up in Amherst and lived most of his life in Montreal before returning to Moncton, says many people simply can’t make ends meet after paying the bills so they rely on food banks and soup kitchens to make it from cheque to cheque.

Sitting at a table in the Karing Kitchen, he says many poor people want to work but can’t get the opportunity, especially if they have a criminal record. With cleanup week now under way, he says many people see the opportunity in picking up stuff, fixing it and selling it to make a few bucks. But he feels there should be more opportunities for people to work for cash so they can get ahead.

“There’s no reason why a criminal record should stop you from picking up paper on the side of the road,” he says.

“If the food banks and soup kitchens weren’t there, a lot of people wouldn’t have anything. Some people are too proud to go. But there’s no such thing as bad people, they are just having a hard time,” he says.

“We need to have a system where people are allowed to make a bit more money so they can get out of the hole. People who are cheating the system are cheating because they aren’t given the opportunity to be honest. There’s no difference between a rich person who spends all their money to pay the bills and a poor person who doesn’t have as much to spend. They are both living paycheque to paycheque.”

Moncton area businesses and organizations are being urged to hold their own fundraising events throughout the week to help fight hunger in Metro Moncton. Donations can also be made at any Moncton-area branch of Advance Savings Credit Union or Omista Credit Union from May 7 to 11. Donations of non-perishable food items are also welcomed.

On Friday, there will be a fundraising event and BBQ at the Molson Brewery from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

On Saturday, there will be a fundraising event in conjunction with the annual Biker Blessing at Toys for Big Boys on the Salisbury Road from 10:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Besides financial donations, people can volunteer to help in the warehouse, on the delivery trucks, in the office or at special events. Tasks involve loading and unloading trucks, packing food boxes, preparing orders, cleaning and helping out around the warehouse, and administrative support.