On October 3 Valley residents were invited to see behind the scenes at the Madawaska Valley Food Bank at 19460 Opeongo Line, Barry’s Bay. The 25-year-old non-profit organization is run completely by volunteers and opens twice monthly to provide food to area individuals and families in need. Open House guests were taken through the same process as Food Bank clients, and treated to the same courtesy and discretion. Volunteers explained that becoming a Food Bank client can be distressing for many people, especially on the first visit, so they have developed a system that treats everyone with kindness, fairness and efficiency.
Greeter Pat McNamara (above) took us to the rear door of the house explaining that a discrete entrance away from the street shelters clients from the view of passersby. Each household takes a number and there are tables and chairs set up so that Food Bank clients can wait in comfort until they are called. After their visit is completed, goods can be loaded into vehicles in privacy. Shown: seating and loading area at rear. Also below: MV Food Bank motto “WHO you see here, WHAT you hear here, and the love you receive here, Let it stay here.”
Clients then pass through the kitchen area where volunteers break down bulk foods into smaller packages in advance. Below: Patricia McLee (at left) weighs out dry goods with Tish Whitfield in the kitchen.
Above right: Loreen Walker gives Theresa Prince a sample ticket. At the registration table, clients are checked in and given a colour-coded ticket depending on the size of the household. If it is the first visit, volunteers ask for the address, the number of people in the household, the family income level, any food allergies, etc. No one is required to prove they need assistance; instead, the data is used so that Feed Ontario (formerly the Ontario Association of Food Banks) has accurate data when it lobbies on behalf of those Ontarians who require support. Prospective clients are screened to ensure they are attending the appropriate Food Bank for their location. MV Food Bank serves households in Barry’s Bay, Combermere, Wilno, Whitney, Madawaska, Palmer Rapids – as defined by the 756, 758 and 637 telephone exchanges. At present between 35 and 50 households use MV Food Bank.
Above: colour-coded tickets ensure food is distributed according to household size
Volunteers bring Food Bank clients into the grocery area, where a wheeled cart with empty crates awaits. Here, clients can choose the number of items required for their size of household. Suppliers provide some goods through Feed Ontario. We learned that volunteers drive from one supermarket to another across vast regions of the province, collecting and distributing all sorts of items – everything from dented tins and damaged cartons of boxed foods to bulk dry goods, baby items, pet food and toiletries. MV Food Bank is dependent on these donations. If the truck doesn’t arrive, volunteers have to buy food to stock their selves before they open for clients. Unlike many other food banks, MV Food Bank also provides fresh produce and meats whenever possible. Thanks to donations from local gardeners, their Grow-A-Row program and spring transplants are popular with clients.
From left: Elizabeth Beasley, Terry Newcombe holding fresh chicken portions, Irene Lapenskie with cart
Once the selections have been made and while the cart is being moved to the loading area out back, Food Bank clients can visit the nearly-new clothing section. Not all food banks provide clothing but MV Food Bank introduced this fairly recently and found it has been very well received. A number of Valley crafters produce handmade crocheted and knitted hats, scarves and mittens for the clothing section.
How you can help
So what does the MV Food Bank need for clients? Not only food – they need anything you would find in a supermarket. The current list includes: canned baked beans, pasta, tomato sauce, mayonnaise, canned vegetables and fruit, pet food, hygiene products, toothpaste and toothbrushes, soups, sugar, flour, rice, canned meat and fish, fruit juices, laundry soap, dish detergent. Cash is always welcome because the volunteers use it to supplement that week’s truck delivery with any missing items. Coming up soon are some important annual fundraising events such as the MooseFM Radiothon and the supermarket food drives. By contributing to these, you can be sure that your donation goes for items needed by local families.
Food Bank hours
MV Food Bank is open the second and fourth Tuesday of every month from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m., except December when it is open the second and third Tuesday from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. (in 2019 December 10 and 17).