Home Blog April 2021 How the Peter McKee Community Food Centre Keep Clients Smiling Even During Pandemic

How the Peter McKee Community Food Centre Keep Clients Smiling Even During Pandemic

How the Peter McKee Community Food Centre Keep Clients Smiling Even During Pandemic
Heather Richards, now manager at the Peter McKee Community Food Centre has worked with vulnerable populations for many years. When she heard that the Peter McKee Community Food Centre needed someone to run the Food Centre, she knew that she had to step in to help, but it was no cakewalk. Cries for help, tears of joy and struggling clients reaching out were all part of her daily life at the Food Centre.
“I remember it vividly, I started on a Monday, March 16, and then they declared the state of emergency later that week. I had to get my feet on the ground right away to learn a new role and juggle the challenges of COVID. We tried many different models of distributing food to our clients until we found the best fit. What made it even harder were the calls I would get from people in crisis, crying because they felt ashamed of asking for help. One time, a school called saying they did not realize that families were struggling until they reached into the children’s lunch boxes and realized that the quality of food had plummeted. When they reached out to the families, many of them were afraid of admitting they needed help because they were afraid of getting reported to child protection services for not being able to provide for their children. This just breaks my heart”. 
And then there is the daily struggle of ensuring that clients and staff are safe, which is always a priority for food banks.
“The number of volunteers we had decreased due to having to limit the number of individuals in the Centre at one time, which has not made things easier, but we have to keep people safe, which is what’s most important”.
The Peter McKee Food Centre had to come up with a creative solution that would help them in the long run, even beyond the pandemic.
“We tried many different approaches of distributing food to our clients while also dealing with renovations. A couple of months into the pandemic, we brainstormed and changed the way we operate to a grocery store shopping model, which has really been beneficial for us. Giving people the choice in what food they receive helps individuals ensure they are getting food items that they know they can use.  Due to the large size of our building (Gymnasium in a former Military Garrison), when the province is placed in different levels, our way of operation does not change very much. We can maintain social distancing and consistency for our clients”. 
The children really enjoy the shopping model too.
“The best is when we see kids come in and they get to help their parents choose their groceries. I just love being able to see the smiles on their faces. We want to make it an enjoyable experience for everyone. We often have treats set aside, which they always look forward to. We also have a gluten-free and vegan section”.
Unfortunately, many are not aware of what food banks do, and for Heather and many other food banks, educating the public is also part of the work.
“I know that I am only one person and I cannot eradicate hunger all on my own, but I want to do my best to get the message out to the community and government. I hear many people telling me that they are so surprised when I tell them that there are people who work full time that still come to the food banks because they need extra support. In the minds of many people, the food banks are for a specific group of people. They do not realize that it is their neighbourhood, and it could even be them someday. The educational component is really important for us”.
Especially those who feel shame around using food banks.
“I wish we could normalize food bank use, where it can become a place where people need us occasionally. I wish it could just be ‘I am going to the bank because I need a bridge right now’. People are sometimes ashamed to come to food banks, but I want them to know that there is no shame in using the food banks because it is what we are here for. Everyone needs that security sometimes”.
Food banks love what they do, especially when they get to make people smile.
“We have this lady who is a client here. She is a senior, and she lives on her own with limited income. She has children but does not have any relationships with them. When it is time for her appointment to come pick up her food, she calls to request a delivery. We have a partnership with other organizations that provide transportation for those who cannot come and get their food and I can refer clients to them. So, we have instructed her to call the driving program to arrange her delivery, but for some reason, it does not register with her”, says Heather with a chuckle. “So, she calls me every time, and I actually really look forward to our chats. I do not even try to redirect her to our admin. We talk for 5-10 mins and you can always hear the joy in her voice, and you know, she is just looking for someone to talk to. At the end of my call, she always ends with a ‘Thank you for talking to me, you just made my day. I’m really happy’. Sometimes I will send her a little notes with her food order just to bring a little piece of joy to her day. To me, it’s just heartwarming to know that ten minutes in my day makes such a difference in someone else’s life”.

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of food distributed by Canadian food banks is fresh (eg. milk, eggs, fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, bread)