The Yellowknife Food Bank, which collects and distributes food twice a month to the needy in the downtown core, is closing its doors.
The organization announced on March 24 in a social media post that based on recommendations from the Government of the Northwest Territories, the food bank “will no longer collect or distribute food until further notice.
“We take our responsibility as an emergency service, that supports some of Yellowknife’s most vulnerable people seriously and have not made this decision lightly,” reads the statement.
The food bank distributes food every second and fourth Saturday of the month at the Side Door Resource Centre at 4903 50th Street.
Cherish Winsor, a board member with the food bank, stated that it is safer to close for the time being than risk spreading the virus.
“Yes, we’ve decided not to distribute food during the pandemic,” she said. “We normally operate out of a very small space with a dozen or so people very close together. It isn’t safe given the current government recommendations of social distancing precautions. Our clients are often vulnerable members of our community and this is the only way to protect them as well as our volunteers.”
For the last few years, the Yellowknife Food Bank has been distributing food baskets at the downtown Side Door while using storage facilities at the basement of the nearby 50/50 mini mall.
Coleen McClean, a longtime volunteer co-ordinator for the organization, said normally there are 60 food baskets that go out to families and 40 that go out to single people every two weeks.
However, the virus is scaring away people who would otherwise come to get the baskets, said McClean.
“We usually pack about 100 baskets and lately it has been half of that (20 families and 30 singles) that we have been distributing so it has not been terribly busy,” she said.
“Since this scare came in, the numbers have just dropped. Whether people wanted food or not, they didn’t want to come in and stand among dozens of people.
“Regardless, there are ones that still need it, but I just don’t know what our solution would be.”
The closure comes at a time when Yellowknifers and other Northerners have been emptying store shelves of food and supplies in preparation for periods of self-isolation at home. In recent weeks bare necessities like toilet paper, non-perishable vegetables, oats and flour and many other items have become scarce.
McClean said she is worried about the ramifications of what the closure could mean for people who are out of work, particularly if the pandemic leads to an increase of people being unemployed, without income and for a long period of time.
“As time goes by people aren’t going to have that income and it is a great possibility that, yes, there will be more people that would need it,” she said.
“I hope the NWT doesn’t get as bad as the south as far as who will need it. Right now there are a lot of people out of work and if this keeps going two to four weeks, people will need food. So I don’t know. I really don’t know the solution at the moment.”
Food bank in the downtown
McClean said the food bank has learned the hard way in recent years that to make a difference, it is important it be easily accessed by a wide variety of people at a central location.
In 2014, the food bank was forced out of the basement of Overlander Sports where it had been located for more than a decade prior.
The only space that could be found with a place for storage and distribution was in a garage at 6 Coronation Drive in Kam Lake.
Being so far away from downtown cut down the number of people who used the bank, she said.
“In Kam Lake our number dwindled because people just couldn’t get up there,” she said. “It was too impossible for a lot of them to first, walk up there and then second, walk back with a bunch of groceries. ”
Now that the food bank is located downtown again, she said the number of users have shot back up. Since the coronavirus, there is no telling what the future may hold.
“It is a difficult situation to know how to plan it out so that it is safe, she said. “We don’t want people to congregate any more than a few people. Now that there is a positive case (of coronavirus) in the NWT, who knows how fast it could spread. Hopefully it doesn’t but you just don’t know.”