By Jaymie L. White
Special to the Appalachian
STEPHENVILLE – With a significant food shortage and skyrocketing food costs, many organizations and individuals are feeling the pinch. Emergency Food Services, which operates out of the Anglican church on Hillview Avenue in Stephenville Friday mornings, is one of the many organizations trying to keep up while facing an increased demand. Deb Jones said COVID has made a significant impact on the number of people requiring their services.
“We serve between 40 and 50 families a week on average. Now over Christmas there was one week we served 122 people. Since COVID came in, in particular, between the job loss and people being underemployed, people are coming to us pretty much every week saying this is the first time they’ve ever come here. Unfortunately, at the moment, we can only ask our clients to come once every eight weeks, and it is a two-to-three-day emergency food supply that we give them. But we’ve had people come before the eight weeks are over and we’re not going to turn them away.”
Jones said the extra grants and funding available at the start of the pandemic did help offset costs, but a lot of those funding opportunities have dried up.
“When COVID first started there was extra monies available, but now a lot of people are still looking for that same pot of money, so we are always trying to apply for grants and get whatever we can get to keep going. At Christmas we gave out gift cards to our clients to help offset the costs of purchasing a Christmas dinner and we spent over $14,000 on gift cards. The need is unbelievable.”
Jones believes government needs to start looking at ways to increase assistance for organizations who are struggling to help ensure people stay fed and healthy.
“I think governments have to realize that this is a growing need and it’s right across the country, not just here. The organizations that are doing this service are manned by volunteers pretty much, and maybe there needs to be more grants available from government so we can continue to do what we do.”
Because of rising costs, Jones says that the food bank has had to scale clients back to once every eight weeks. It wasn’t sustainable for the organization to continue to give more than that.
“If the cost of food continues to rise the way it is, and if the number of clients goes up dramatically, we would maybe have to cut back on how much we give them. I would hate to do that. We’re trying to be there for these people as much as we can. It’s a struggle.”
Right now they are only able to give people basic foods such as canned food and frozen meat products, but down the road the organization would like to add things such as fresh vegetables if the funding allows.
“It’s cheaper if you have children right now to buy a two litre of Pepsi versus a carton of milk. Something we are looking at down the road, if we can get a building and combine different groups, is show clients how to cook healthy meals. You can buy a cheaper cut of meat, for example, and give them tips on how to cook this stuff, but that’s just a dream at the moment.”
Jones said businesses and organizations have been extremely helpful in what they do to assist Emergency Food Services. The Knights of Columbus and Rotary Club both offer volunteers during the month, and the grocery stores are a great help as well.
“The three supermarkets in the area have been great help with us also. Coleman’s will give us baked goods every week. Dominion have food drives set up and they’ve been giving us brown paper bags that we can put the food in for the clients so we can have as little contact at the moment with people, and Co-op gives us money donations. They’ve all been very giving to us.”
Jones said fundraising is something they are continuously doing, including this week’s fundraiser. A ‘Share the Love’ drive-thru food drive took place Monday on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, in conjunction with the Knights of Columbus.
The organization takes both monetary and food donations, and Jones says they appreciate everyone who has continued to donate throughout the pandemic.
“This community has been very giving and I understand money is getting tight for everybody, but people are giving us monetary donations and we would just like to ask that they continue to do it if they can.”