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RVC Food banks respond to COVID-19

As residents grapple with uncertainty relating to COVID-19, food banks that support Rocky View County are committed to remaining open and distributing food. File Photo/Rocky View Weekly

As uncertainty around the novel coronavirus abounds, food banks around Rocky View County (RVC) are making adjustments to address both health concerns and an increased demand on their services.

“We are totally committed to being here for our community during this time,” said Lori McRitchie, executive director of Airdrie Food Bank (AFB) which serves Crossfield, Balzac, Beiseker, Madden and portions of central RVC.

AFB will remain open as long as supplies last, she said, and the organization’s team held a meeting March 16 to look at making adjustments to its practices and programs to respond to the pandemic and ensure the safety of its staff, clients and volunteers.

“The last thing we want is for anyone to get sick because of something that happened at the food bank, so we’re doing anything we can to maintain the standards of care that Alberta Health has set out for us and for our clients,” McRitchie said.

Jan Tracy, president of the Cochrane Activettes – which operates the Cochrane Food Bank (CFB), whose catchment area includes Bragg Creek and much of west RVC – said similar measures are being followed there.

“We obviously are taking that very seriously,” she said. “That’s why we’re not allowing people into the food bank at the moment.”

In light of COVID-19, AFB’s hours have been adjusted, with the food bank open Tuesdays to Fridays. From 8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m., McRitchie said, people will be able to stop by for the “Bread and Extra” program, picking up needed items. For health reasons, the food bank has reorganized its entrance area so that people can self-serve in hopes of limiting contact with the food items, she added.

In the afternoons, hampers will be distributed to clients by appointment. AFB will no longer allow clients to search through and remove items from the hampers, which will now be prepackaged, according to McRitchie. The food bank has also incorporated a system where hampers will be carried to clients’ cars in the parking lot, rather than picked up in the building.

CFB, meanwhile, is no longer offering hamper pickup at its facility, but is instead delivering hampers with the help of volunteer drivers who will call on arrival and leave the hampers at clients’ doors. CFB is also paring back its hampers to stretch its resources, providing three to five days worth of food.

Volunteers at both food banks are being screened to ensure they have not been travelling and haven’t been sick, McRitchie and Tracy said, and safe food-handling standards are being followed.

“We anticipate that everything we’re doing is a fluid kind of process, and we’re going to make adjustments as we go along,” McRitchie said.

According to Mardi Oel, executive director of the Chestermere Food Bank – which serves Conrich and portions of RVC outside the city – clients are still allowed inside their facility, but the pickup area is being sanitized after every pickup. Clients are also no longer allowed to remove items from the hampers, and distribution is now only taking place on Mondays and Thursdays. The "Bread and Extras" program has also been cancelled.

"Our main thing is to stay open and serve the people that need us," Ole said.

McRitchie and Ole said the need for hampers has already spiked, and AFB in particular is booked solid with phones ringing off the hook. Many calls are from people turning to the food bank for the first time, she added.

First-time AFB clients will need to call ahead to 403-948-0063 for a hamper, according to McRitchie. CFB’s intake is handled by the local Family and Community Support Services (FCSS), which Tracy said can be contacted at 403-851-2250 with hamper requests. Ole said Chestermere's Community Resource Centre sends her food bank referrals for hampers, and can be contacted at 403-207-7079.

“If you can’t get through, please leave your name and number, because we are calling people back in order of phone calls that are received,” McRitchie said.

In order for local food banks to continue operations, both McRitchie and Tracy said it’s imperative the community continues to show its support by donating food items or cash.

McRitchie noted she was “surprised but really delighted” that food recovery from local stores and businesses – which comprises a large amount of the food donated to the food bank – was normal on March 16. However, as food sells out of stores, she anticipates items like bread, produce and dairy will diminish, causing AFB to rely more on community donations.

“If you are going shopping and buying food for yourself, think about someone who might not be able to do that or have the privilege of being able to stock up so they’re feeling secure,” she said.

Tracy said the Activettes have already seen a decrease in donations, making the need for food items and cash even more vital.

“We understand fully that people want to take care of their own families, but if you have the opportunity to give us a little bit, any little bit will help at this point,” she said.

Despite uncertain times ahead, both Tracy and McRitchie said they were sure residents in their communities will step up and support each other in the days and weeks to come.

“We are a strong community,” Tracy said. “We’re in a very good position to weather this. Albertans are innovative in ways to do things, and I think if we all work together, we will come through this just fine.”

Follow our COVID-19 special section for the latest local and national COVID-19 news, resources, FAQs and more.

Ben Sherick,
Follow me on Twitter @BenSherick

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