Nishnawbe-Gamik Friendship Centre wraps up hamper program, Food Bank continues operation
Mike Lawrence - Staff Writer
The Nishnawbe-Gamik Friendship Centre (NGFC) has finished up another successful food hamper program, having provided much needed food supports to community members. The most recent program ran from January 2022 until March of 2022.
Ashely Edwards is the Program Manager for NGFC. As she relates, this recent hamper program is just the latest in a series of hamper programs NGFC has run in recent years. The first program was started in April of 2020 and continued until October of that year. They then ran a Christmas hamper program through December of 2020, before reinstating the hamper program in January of 2021. That ran through to September of 2021. There was another Christmas hamper program in December of 2021, and finally the program was reinstated in January 2022 and just ended in March. Edwards added that hampers serviced approximately 1010 families in Sioux Lookout and the surrounding area.
As Edwards explained, “When the pandemic first arrived our Executive Director (Jennifer Thomas) quickly recognized that food support would be an issue for many families as isolation and lockdowns caused many families to lose income. Since we initially launched the hamper program in April of 2020, we have provided approximately 2,345 food support hampers to families.”
The food hampers were intended to provide most of the basics needed to supplement local families’ food needs, with Edwards stating, “The hamper contents and quantity of each item was based on family size and each family received household staples of non-perishable goods such as canned soups, pasta, flour, oil, canned meats (tuna & Klik), cereal, pancake mix and syrup, condiments like mayonnaise and ketchup, peanut butter and jam, crackers, as well as lunch snacks for kids as well as some “special” treats like cake mix and icing. Along with the non-perishable items, families received a bag of fresh items which included milk, bread, cheese, yogurt, carrots, potatoes, onions, frozen vegetables, hot dogs and a family package of hamburger or chicken.”
The program has proved to be most welcome by the families that needed to utilize the service, with Edwards commenting, “The public has shown immense gratitude to the program as well as the staff. Whether it was mentioned in person or expressed in emails and messages on our Emergency Support voicemail, those who received hampers definitely let us know how grateful they were and how much stress and anxiety this assistance relieved them of.”
Edwards continued, “As the pandemic continued and the cost and availability of food, along with other costs of living in the North, became too much for some families, our Executive Director Jennifer Thomas
along with the Board of Directors of the Nishnawbe-Gamik Friendship Centre decided that we would extend the program and continue to offer food support services as long as we could acquire funding to do so. We recognize that no one should ever have to choose between paying a hydro bill or buying groceries. Food is a necessity of life and everyone should have access to food and support especially in such unsure times.”
While the most recent hamper program may be finished, Edwards assures the community that resources remain available should families still need assistance, noting, “We know that with the program ending families will still be struggling and we hope that they will utilize the Out of The Cold Food Bank which operates at 25 Fair Street between 1:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. They can be reached by phone at 737-7499 or 738-4377 and would appreciate a call ahead of time so they can get a hamper prepared. We also encourage community members to explore the many programs that the Friendship Centre offers which can provide not only mental, emotional, physical and spiritual support but also food support to registered clients.”
As mentioned by Edwards, the Out of the Cold Food Bank continues to offer food support services out of their location at 25 Fair Street.
As Out of the Cold Executive Director Susan Barclay explained, at least as far as the food bank is concerned, things have been pretty quiet.
“We have not had a lot of call for food bank. We have struggled with the food bank through COVID because the food bank is housed at 25 Fair, while the majority of our staff and services have been at (the former) Queen Elizabeth High School. But we have tried to accommodate everybody, even if it meant they would have to come back the next day when we knew we’d have a staff person on site, or we could pull somebody from the shelter for half an hour to do a food bank order. But yes, we still do have the food bank and it is still at 25 Fair.”
With the food hamper program ending, Barclay notes, “With the food hampers no longer coming out, that’s definitely going to be putting more of a strain on people’s food budgets. The cost of food has risen significantly, the cost of gas has risen significantly. The cost of keeping your house warm... everybody is going to feel the pinch. I think people are going to feel it more than they were even through COVID, because then there were programs to help.”
With operating hours being in flux due to staffing issues, individuals thinking of using the food bank’s services are encouraged to call ahead to ensure someone can be onsite to assist.
Barclay continued, “The food bank is not funded by anybody, it’s completely run through donations and volunteer hours. So, we could really use volunteers for the food bank. If people have time, give us a shout and we will figure out what kind of hours they might have to share as a food bank volunteer. That might be a way to augment the availability of food bank. As we transition out of this COVID mode we will try to standardize our food bank hours again.”
Barclay finished by adding, “People can stop by (the food bank), and if someone’s there they will absolutely do their food for them. If they want, they can call ahead to be sure someone is there. If there’s no staff there it’ll ring at the Out of the Cold shelter, or they can leave a message.”