NGFC emergency food hampers continue to address local food insecurity
Jesse Bonello - Staff Writer
The Nishnawbe-Gamik Friendship Centre (NGFC) launched an Emergency Food Hamper Program at the beginning of April to help community members in need of food during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The NGFC said the program has since served over 1,200 individuals in the community, helping to address local food insecurity.
“The Nishnawbe-Gamik Friendship Centre has lent its hand in addressing food insecurity within our community for a number of years. Programs such as the Christmas food hamper program, delivery of community feasts, weekly Elders luncheons, and the Miniwaaki Greenhouse Program are all attempts at mitigating food insecurity issues and support our community. Understanding that many families and individuals struggle every day with providing balanced meals, we knew the need would be even greater during these unfamiliar times,” said Jennifer Thomas, NGFC Executive Director.
“On April 3, the Nishnawbe-Gamik Friendship Centre launched a community wide Emergency Food Hamper. To date, we have delivered 344 hampers that has supported 1225 individuals, 602 of which are children and youth. Hampers are delivered on Tuesday's and Thursday's each week and are door dropped with no-contact delivery to ensure social distancing and in accordance with public health recommendations.
“The success of this program would not have been possible without our partnership with the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board and the Northwestern Health Unit. Sharon Dumonski, a representative of KPDSB, has provided relentless efforts each week in ensuring students and their families receive support through this program, assembling and delivering hampers alongside Centre staff. Fresh Market Foods have been an on-going supporter, donating plants and supplies and assisting in the growth of our Minniwaaki Greenhouse program,” Thomas explained.
Through an existing relationship with the NGFC, Sioux Mountain Public School (SMPS) said they’ve been able to provide students and families access to emergency food through the Emergency Food Hamper Program, helping to provide food for students that would regularly access breakfast and lunch programs at SMPS.
“We’ve been working with the Nishnawbe-Gamik Friendship Centre staff for a number of years at Sioux Mountain (Public School), specifically with their children and youth programming. They offer quite a variety of really high quality programs, so we have integrated a lot of them into our in-school and after-school programming. It’s really been a strong existing partnership for a while,” said Sharon Dumonski, Indigenous Family Case Worker at SMPS.
“What we’ve done to keep students engaged and families supported is extend that existing partnership and change the programming a little bit. A lot of it is either going online or being delivered to doors. In terms of capacity building, we’ve pooled our resources to ensure families have access to emergency food. That was a big concern for us once the pandemic and all the closures started. Kids who regularly access our breakfast and lunch programs might have a shortfall there, so we pooled our resources and the Friendship Centre started an emergency hamper program, which I’ve been supporting since March.
“Families in need can call the (NGFC) emergency line (807-738-4671). They can call and leave a message. Somebody returns their calls on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and we provide hampers with door drop off and no contact… That’s been really successful. We received emergency funding to support that program through the Breakfast Club of Canada, so they’ve been really good at recognizing the need and making sure we have funds to pool into that,” Dumonski explained.
Along with providing students access to food programs, SMPS and the NGFC are ensuring students stay connected to after-school programs by delivering craft and activity kits.
“In terms of other programming we offer after-school programs in partnership with the Friendship Centre all year. In order to make sure we still connected with those students we started a weekly delivery of craft and activity kits. Right now the youth programs, Akwe:go, Healthy Living Kids, and myself, get together and create a craft package every week and deliver them to just over 80 students,” said Dumonski.
“We really wanted to ensure that families felt supported… At school we really wanted our families to feel that we’re here for them. We might not have all the answers or know exactly what to do, but we’re all working together to figure it out. It was really important that we reached out, we kept that connection, and provided support whether that be food, school supplies, or Chromebooks,” she said.
In addition to the Emergency Food Hamper Program, community members can access food through Sioux Lookout’s Out of the Cold Shelter Food Bank. The food bank said they’re well-stocked and have expanded their schedule to serve community members that need food.
“We are prepared and we are well-stocked at the moment because we’ve had additional supports through COVID-19 to be able to have stuff available for people. We are well-stocked, and did expand our days. The food bank can be accessed at our 25 Fair Street location from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday,” said Susan Barclay, Out of the Cold Shelter Executive Director.
“There’s no contact. People come to the door, we get the stuff, and we bring it out to them. People can call ahead and we can get it ready for them at 737-7499, but it’s not a requirement. People can just come to the door and we can get them a hamper,” said Barclay.