‘We see a lot of struggling:’ Windsor, N.S. food bank volunteers say demand for services has dramatically increased
WINDSOR, NS — The shelves were fully stocked when volunteers at the Matthew 25 Windsor and District Food Bank returned from a much-needed two-week summer break. By the end of the day, most of those same shelves were empty.
Ashley Hingley, who is “second in command” at the food bank, spends her days co-ordinating the efforts to feed West Hants’ hungry. She said the demand for their service has never been so high.
“I’d say, we’re averaging at least five (new clients) a week, if not more. We had seven in one day. And that’s not just individuals, that’s seven families,” said Hingley.
She said the high cost of living has impacted all Nova Scotians, and it’s particularly evident in the West Hants region that they serve.
“A lot of it is what we would call, I guess, the working poor — those who are working but still can’t meet that need for food or their money is going towards gas or their money is going towards rent or oil or whatever (bills) might be coming up.”
They’ve also seen an uptick in senior citizens seeking assistance.
“Everything’s going up but their money isn’t and we see a lot of struggling,” said Hingley, noting that while social assistance funding has increased, and many people were able to tap into the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) during COVID, old age pension has remained fairly stagnant and retirees weren’t eligible for CERB.
Ashley Hingley, who is the primary co-ordinator for the Matthew 25 Windsor and District Food Bank, says the need from the community is ever-present and increasing weekly. – Carole Morris-Underhill
Hingley said it’s quite difficult for seniors to admit they need help, and it’s heartbreaking to see them in this situation when they enter their 60s, 70s and 80s. But that’s the new reality, she said.
“So, unfortunately, some people have to choose (what they’ll pay) and food is not always a necessity — other things are, and that’s sad,” said Hingley, noting the impact of skyrocketing rent and gasoline prices.
She knows of some families that are living together just so they can keep a roof over their heads — with some people sleeping on the floor.
And they’re noticing more people who are homeless seeking help. Hingley said they do what they can to help that segment of the population too, noting it’s particularly challenging as they can only take a limited amount of food and supplies at a time.
“We don’t want to see anybody go hungry and we will try our best and try and go out of our way to help anybody in need,” said Hingley.
Nevaeh Morton, 13, and Ryleigh Hingley, 15, have been volunteering at the Matthew 25 Windsor and District Food Bank for a few years. They say it’s rewarding knowing they’re helping those in need. – Carole Morris-Underhill
Each month, the food bank serves between 400 and 600 clients, she said.
“There were times where we were doing 40 orders a day and in some of those families there’s 10, 12 people,” Hingley said.
While helping others is calling, it can be taxed. That’s why the food bank closed for two weeks in the summer to give volunteers a break. They will do it again near Christmas.
“Especially since COVID, we were running the risk of having the volunteers burnout,” Hingley said of the planned closures.
While the food bank is open two days a week — Tuesdays and Thursdays — there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes to ensure it operates efficiently and they have enough food to meet the needs.
When the volunteers returned from vacation, Hingley said it was nice to see the shelves stocked, as they had just received their Feed Nova Scotia delivery.
But the phone didn’t stop ringing that day.
In fact, it hasn’t let up all summer.
It includes people who never thought they’d need to rely on a food bank calling for the first time, asking for help.
Hingley said the purpose of a food bank is to serve as a stop-gap, allowing people to get a few days of nutritious meals between paycheques. It’s not meant to be filling people’s bellies all month long.
“All food banks were put in place to help you for a few days before you got paid — that is initially what it was supposed to be used for,” said Hingley.
Clients are able to call and get a full order once every six weeks. The food bank also offers some emergency orders, or partial orders, depending on the situation.
“Our main focus is our full orders and our new clients, those that are needing that help.”
During the summer months, families with children receive an After the Bell snack pack with their food bank order. – Carole Morris-Underhill
Up until recently, the food bank also provided a weekly “bread order” to clients — it gave people who needed a little extra something to look forward to each week. The smaller order, which often would contain bread, sweets, fresh fruit and vegetables, which comprised of whatever extras the food bank had.
“Because of the influx of new clients that we have, this is the first time that we’ve actually had to do away with it,” said Hingley, noting the bread orders have been available for decades.
She said the organization is receiving significantly less 50 per cent off and discounted items from stores than in previous years — which she credits to more consumers looking for deals — and due to stock shortages, she can’t walk in and buy copious amounts of products .
“There was a time where I could go and get 50 bags of carrots if I needed to. Now, I’m lucky if I’m allowed to take 10 because they don’t have the product in their store to give to their customers,” said Hingley.
“It’s kind of like a domino effect. It starts from the top and unfortunately, we’re on the bottom and we feel that strain.”
Additionally, donations have also declined as people adjust their budgets to meet the rising costs.
“I’m not sure if we will ever be able — at this moment or in the near future — to go back and do bread orders,” said Hingley, adding it is their eventual goal.
“We know that it has affected a lot of our clients; a lot of the families that were using us on a weekly basis can’t access that anymore.”
‘Feel great’ helping others
Hingley’s daughter Ryleigh, 15, and Nevaeh Morton, 13, are among the volunteers who spend hours helping at the food bank.
For them, it feels good to give back to the community.
“I like seeing everyone who needs help be able to get it and to be able to help them,” Nevaeh said. “I know that with prices going up, it’s harder for people to get food,” said Ryleigh. “I just love helping people who can’t get the food that they need for their families. Being here, I just feel great doing it.”
The duo help in all aspects — from filling orders to marking off barcodes to ensure the products aren’t returned to grocery stores for a cash refund.
“People would actually take their whole basket back to a store and say, ‘Oh, it was a gift’ or ‘I don’t want it now’ and get the money for it,” said Hingley. “So now everything that goes out of here, that we can, the barcode is taken off of it.”
Matthew 25 Windsor and District Food Bank volunteers don’t like to throw anything away but some items, like instant powdered drinks for example, tend to end up being composted as clients don’t seem to want to consume them. – Carole Morris-Underhill
Although donations have been down, Hingley said the community always steps up to help when called upon. There are a few fundraisers already planned that Hingley hopes will help leading into the fall.
On Aug. 27, the fourth annual Windsor Model Railroad and Hobby Show will be donating a portion of the proceeds to the Matthew 25 Windsor and District Food Bank. The show, which will be held at the Royal Canadian Legion, 35 Empire Lane in Windsor, runs from 9 am to 4 pm Admission is $7 per adult; $15 per family; and children five years old and younger may enter for free.
On Sept. 3, Glad Tidings Worship Center will be parking a 26-foot truck outside Atlantic Superstore in Windsor in hopes of filling it to support families in need.
Hingley said that event was held last year and it was a phenomenal success.
“We actually were able to stretch what they got for us for school snacks,” Hingley said, noting they entered 2022 with some treats still available.
In the fall, the Windsor Rotary Club also hosts a boat drive, where volunteers line up along Wentworth Road and accept donations — both monetary and food items — from passing motorists.
The Ardoise Community Hall has been keeping a box at the hall for the food bank and dropping off whatever donations come in, Hingley said.
Even people with limited disposable income call still help, Hingley said.
“Even, going to the grocery store and picking up a thing of toothpaste if it’s on sale and dropping it off to us — every tiny little bit — counts.”
Need to know
- What: Matthew 25 Windsor and District Food Bank.
- Where: 90 Sanford Dr, Windsor.
- When: Donations can be dropped off Tuesdays (8 am to 4 pm) and Thursdays (9 am to 4 pm); the phone line opens at noon on both days; pre-arranged food orders can be picked up starting at 12:30 pm
- Contact: 902-798-4313; visit the Facebook page.
- Items wanted: Any non-perishable canned or boxed food; personal hygiene products; pet food; baking goods. Donations of fresh fruit and vegetables (like bagged potatoes and carrots) and perishable items like milk and eggs should only be dropped off when it is open.
Interesting fact: Feed Nova Scotia says food that has reached its best before date may still be consumed up to a year; the Windsor Food Bank accepts donations of food up to six to eight months expired but will not give out anything past that date.
“There are very few things that actually expire. It’s a best before (label). So, in six months, it might not have the most creamiest texture in the world, but it’s still perfectly fine to eat,” says Ashley Hingley, a primary co-ordinator for the food bank.
Any food that is eight to 12 months past the best before date, the Windsor food bank sets out on a free table for clients to take if they choose. It would not be included in the food order.