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Organizations that distribute food to those who need it are feeling the strains caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

With Yellowknife shoppers buying more food and, in some cases, panic-buying, there is less food in circulation, leaving grocery stores with less to donate to charitable groups.

Jason Brinson, executive director with the Salvation Army Yellowknife, holds a bin of pasta items in the food room of the organization’s resource centre. Blair McBride/NNSL photo

Yellowknife Food Rescue is an organization that receives from supermarkets products that are nearing or at their best-before dates or that have faulty packaging, and passes them on to non-profits that serve vulnerable members of the community.

But after facing difficulties of receiving less food from grocery stores and trying to find safe ways for their staff to maintain social distancing, the organization decided on Monday to shut down operations for the foreseeable future.

Fewer donations, less food to buy

The Salvation Army in Yellowknife finds itself in a similar tough situation.

It sources its food from distributors: retail stores, private donors, restaurants and Food Rescue, said executive director Jason Brinson.

The charitable organization then gives back to the community through its hamper program, soup kitchen and meals served to people living in its housing. It provides about 200-250 hampers per month. Brinson said the need from clients has increased recently. However, over the last few weeks, the Army has been receiving less donated food, along with less food availability in the stores.

“We’ve had a shortage for a little while but particularly since COVID-19 has come on. It’s a significant shortage,” said Brinson. “We’re looking to vendors and a variety of other sources in terms of purchasing and re-purposing. We’re looking to maintain as much as we can our services, recognizing that others will be short as well because the same amount of product might not be available.”

The Salvation Army sometimes experiences food shortages and normally it can alleviate them by tapping into its budget for purchased food.

The pandemic-related shortages are forcing the charity to think further ahead with its purchasing.

“We can project based on how many people we serve per week or per month so we have to make adjustments on-site,” Brinson said.

Organizational changes

Aside from its food outreach, the Salvation Army is changing the way it interacts with its clients so as to maintain social distancing.

The NWT ramped up social distancing measures on Sunday, when the chief public health officer strongly advised that all social gatherings be cancelled and most businesses be closed to minimize contact among people.

Brinson said the organization has been encouraging clients to call ahead before they come to get their food hampers so the process of collecting them can be explained.

“We’ve changed it to make it an appointment process. We’re hoping it’s going to work. We can spread it out so people aren’t on top of each other. It’s more difficult, you can only take so many people now lots of moving parts going on right now,” he said.

“But it might change by day, we might change location. It’s an ongoing process based on what we know from public health. We’re trying to minimize close contact so as to maintain social distancing to the best of our ability.”

Its other operations have been changed as well. At the soup kitchen, clients are encouraged to maintain their distance and wash their hands often. Volunteers have been asked to stop coming and Salvation Army staff have been running the kitchen. The organization has closed its thrift store.  

If the food shortages continue, the organization might modify its hampers by changing the food products, but Brinson said it will maintain the program. Since the Salvation Army is a national organization, the Yellowknife branch could tap into those wider resources for assistance, if necessary.

“We generally find that our community tends to step up. We know that people are concerned about supply chains. (But) we have good partnerships in the community and we don’t anticipate (shortages) becoming a problem,” he said.

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Blair McBride

Blair McBride covers the Legislative Assembly, business and education. Before coming to Yellowknife he worked as a journalist in British Columbia, Thailand and Ontario. He studied journalism at Western...

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