Quesnel Salvation Army Major Debbie Gatza had a good problem on her hands Monday, Nov. 30, as she surveyed two tables covered with festive Christmas-themed bags filled with boxes and cans of food. Volunteers usually come in Tuesdays, but with all this new food, she was thinking she would probably have to call them to come in Monday to get ready for the next day’s food bank pick-ups.
The almost-overwhelming donation came from Arrow Transportation Systems Inc. The company brought in 880 pounds of food donated by employees through their Arrow Holiday Extravaganza, a company-wide campaign to spread holiday cheer and support employees’ local communities.
Gatza says donations like this are a huge help, especially at this time of year.
“With Good Cheer not doing hampers this year, we are taking on extra,” she said. “We are not doing hampers, but we are doing the food bank, and all this phenomenal food coming in is a big help because we are doing extra.”
Gatza says a lot of the items donated for the food bank are also distributed to people who need them through a free table set up during the Salvation Army’s lunch service. Gatza says they serve about 60-70 lunches a day, and they put a lot of items on the free table for people to take with them when they take their lunches.
The Salvation Army had to transition to take-away lunches at The Warrior’s Song Café once COVID-19 hit and stop offering drop-in hours and sit-down hot lunches, but Gatza says things have been going well during the pandemic thanks to the generosity of so many people, groups, organizations and businesses in the community.
“With COVID-19, people are very generous to send us cheques and money,” she said. “People have been generous, and, actually, people who haven’t given before have started giving. The community is a very supportive community. They’re a very giving community. We’ve been very, very blessed.”
Gatza says they try to mix it up and offer a lot of variety with the take-away lunches, and they go out and purchase fresh food to augment the food that is donated.
“When groups like this collect like this, this is a really big help,” said Gatza, noting the Quesnel Downtown Association is doing a Christmas food drive, and the Mormon Church usually puts on a huge food drive in September, while many other groups and individuals donate items throughout the year as well.
Gatza says local grocery stores are very generous and help the Salvation Army a lot. St. Ann’s Church provides monthly food donations, and Panago Pizza gives them 25-30 pizzas twice a month for their Warrior’s Song Café lunches. Around Christmas, many schools and groups also do donation drives.
“We’d like to say a big thank you to them all because it helps us a lot,” said Gatza. “It has really saved us a lot financially. The people who come to the soup kitchen and come to the food bank are very thankful. People have been a big support. We thank God we were blessed with all of this, and it’s blessing all those in the community. We have people who are struggling families, so this really helps a lot.”
Gatza is also very grateful to the Salvation Army’s volunteers who sort, organize, box and date all the food donations that come in.
“We have really good volunteers that we appreciate and thank,” she said.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Salvation Army has moved its main office into the Warrior’s Song Café, and anybody who needs to contact the Salvation Army can call the Warrior’s Song Café at 250-992-7079 or stop by the office at 374 McLean St.
As well, the Salvation Army had to close its downtown thrift store, and it remains closed. Gatza says they are looking for a new location, and they are planning to open a thrift store again when they can.
The Salvation Army has just launched its Kettle Campaign, and it will be quite different this year due to COVID-19.
Kettles are currently at Walmart and Extra Foods. The Kettle Campaign runs until Dec. 24, and more kettle locations may be added, but for now, there are two in Quesnel.
“We are down from five kettles to two,” said Gatza. “We did Friday and Saturday as our first ones, and we did really well. We’re really grateful for the community for the support.”