It’s a strange collection of offerings on display in the Salvation Army’s food bank store room.
In one corner, about two months worth of condensed soup are stacked in flats — the last of a corporate donation by Campbell’s in December. Another shelf holds enough tins of cranberry sauce to do a grocery store holiday display proud.
But in between those shelves is a lot of empty space. Soup and sauce aside, the food bank is out of food and facing a two week closure.
Salvation Army Major Yvonne Borrows says the food bank officially closed Tuesday, but will still offer assistance in emergency situations.
“It’s a hard decision,” she says. “Our numbers have gone up staggeringly and nobody makes donations to the food bank at this time of year.”
Though a food drive in February helped them stay open this long, Borrows says donations have dwindled to almost nothing in the past month. The Salvation Army has also spent all of its own food purchasing budget (about $23,000 last year), and doesn’t begin its new fiscal year until April 1.
“We’ve been running on a string and a prayer,” says Borrows, “and we’ve run out.”
The food bank sees about 100 clients per week, who can visit once every 30 days. The number is higher than in the past, because the food bank switched to a Monday to Thursday schedule in 2010, instead of opening only once a week. Borrows says they’re also the primary food bank for many people who live in other parts of the region.
“We service all the outlying communities: Salmo, Kaslo and everything in between up to Castlegar,” she says. “We see a lot of clients from outside the Nelson area, but we don’t get a lot of donations from those areas.”
With the Salvation Army’s service temporarily suspended, Nelson Food Cupboard coordinator Lauren Steeg said she’s expecting some increase in the number of visitors to the city’s other food bank. But because there’s already overlap between the two user groups, she’s not sure how noticeable the uptick will be.
“We are really busy these days all the time,” Steeg adds. “So even though it might affect us a little bit I wouldn’t anticipate that it will affect us too much because we’re already so busy.”
As many as 100 people per day visit the Food Cupboard, which operates out of the Nelson United Church Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
“The numbers have been high for about a year, a year and a half now. And it doesn’t really show any sign of tapering off,” Steeg says.
“We’re noticing more people who traditionally in the past wouldn’t have thought they ever needed a service like this. We’re really seeing people from all walks of life.”
While the Food Cupboard has enough in its budget and on its shelves to get through the year, Steeg says finding the right level of service is still a delicate balance.
“We’re doing the best we can, but it is tight,” she says. “It’s a tremendous need right now.”
While she and Borrows say donations to the food banks are crucial, the demand both organizations face makes Steeg think there are other issues that need to be tackled in the city.
Many of her clients are struggling to meet expenses because they can’t find full time work, she says. A lack of affordable housing also makes finding cash for groceries more difficult.
“I think as far as food security goes we have to look at the bigger picture here,” she adds. “Food banks are kind of just a short-term solution.”
DONATING TO THE FOOD BANK
While the Salvation Army is meeting its soup quota, Major Yvonne Borrows says there are plenty of other essentials needed to bring the food bank back online.
“I tell people look at what you have for dinner each night,” she says. “What are your basics? That’s the kind of stuff we need.”
Among the most needed items are:
• Proteins such as peanut butter and canned meat or fish
• Pasta and sauce, or boxed macaroni and cheese
• Diapers, especially in sizes 3 and 4
• Oatmeal, cereal, jam and other breakfast options
With spring break about to end, Borrows says there’s also a need for school lunch items. “I’ve got moms coming in and we’ve got absolutely nothing for kids’ lunches,” she says.
And while the Salvation Army doesn’t purchase treats such as cookies, Borrows says when they are donated they’re much appreciated, especially by families with children.