Salvation Army-run food banks along Hwy16 are already putting a federal grant to use in responding to needs arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nationally, the Salvation Army received $4 million of $100 million provided by the federal government to a variety of food-providing organizations in early April with the Army’s food bank covering Smithers and Houston receiving $20,000, the one in Prince Rupert receiving just over $30,000 and the one in Terrace $25,000.
The Army’s community services director for the Bulkley Valley, Adam Marshall, welcomed the federal infusion, saying demand has increased substantially since the pandemic hit, putting people out of work.
“The challenge we’re meeting is that demand has increased, in some cases doubling or even tripling,” he said of services the Army provides in Smithers and Houston.
Before COVID-19, the Army’s take-home backpack program for vulnerable students was active in two schools amounting to an average of 57 back packs per month.
“We’re now up to 120-150 a month and now in five schools,” Marshall said.
To fill 18 backpacks each time, he puts the cost at $490.
There’s also been a dramatic increase in the Army’s community meals and soup kitchen offerings.
“From an average of 294 [offerings] we’re now at 600,” Marshall stated.
The Army has also received other grants and Marshall said community support has been reassuring.
At the current demand and activity level, Marshall estimates the federal grant will last until early June to supplement and sustain the Army’s food programs.
But while demand is up, the Army’s core of volunteers has declined because some are self-isolating and senior citizen volunteers with underlying medical conditions can no longer contribute their time.
“So now we have triple the demand but are down to one-third of our volunteers,” said Marshall.
“We know who our volunteers are and we know who may have a pre-existing condition and for their safety, we’re telling them to stay at home,” he said.
The Salvation Army’s food banks in Terrace and Prince Rupert also report an increase in demand and in activity.
As a gesture of appreciation to the staff at Mills Memorial Hospital in Terrace, one of three hospitals in the north designated as a primary COVID-19 critical care facility, the Army’s mobile kitchen makes stops to provide refreshments.
And in Prince Rupert, while the Army’s food bank has had to suspend food pick ups, it is now delivering to clients in that city and next-door Port Edward.