Economy
Yellowknife

‘People are really hurting.’ YK’s food bank seeing new clients


Yellowknife’s food bank has reopened to a different world. After a short time closed when the pandemic first struck, volunteers say the food bank is now helping people who never needed it before.

After shutting down food distribution and collection on March 24, the organization started up again on April 19 – but not without significant changes to its operations.

Usually open every other week, the food bank is now available every Sunday morning from 10am to noon. Food is handed out from the 50/50 Mini Mall in pre-made bags to limit contact with the items.

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Coleen McClean-Cham is the volunteer coordinator. She said it’s a balancing act as the food bank figures out how to help while remaining physically distant and safe.

“It’s quite a different situation,” she said. “We’ve never had to do something like this before.”

Clients are being taken by appointment only in 10-minute intervals. This helps to limit the number of people present at a time, Coleen McClean-Cham said.

“We’re not getting quite as many clients as we would have if they were standing all in line, all together,” she said.

Opening every week allows the food bank to serve as many people as possible in that two-hour window.

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The number of volunteers has been reduced for the sake of social distancing. Three to four per shift was once typical for food distribution. There are now no more than two volunteers – with masks – on-site at any given time.

Harder to find volunteers

Jill Christensen, a longtime Yellowknifer, is a food bank volunteer. She said her “heart is in food security in the North.”

At the food bank this past Sunday, Christensen noticed a different atmosphere.

“At the regular food bank, you do have an opportunity to chat with people,” she said. “It kind-of gives me an insight into what they’re experiencing.”

That’s no longer the case. Clients aren’t allowed inside the building and, in the interest of distancing, social interactions are kept short.

For Christensen, it feels less personal and less friendly.

“When you just sort-of open the door, hand them the bag, have a few brief words, and wish people well, that’s different,” she said. “But it’s still getting the food to people.”

Christensen is seeing people come to the food bank who are new to the experience.

“These are people who we might see in a convenience store, or a fast-food restaurant, who no longer have that work right now and are relying on the food bank to help them out,” she said.

“That says to me a lot of people are really hurting with the economic downturn because of Covid.”

While Christensen is happy to come in and hand out bags, volunteers are hard to come by in these times, McClean-Cham said.

She speculated it may be because people are nervous about coming into contact with others.

Once they understand the precautionary measures in place, McClean-Cham said, she thinks more people might come forward.

“It’s just getting to know the routine and how things are done to get people to come forward more,” she said. “Or I’m hoping so, anyway.”

To make an appointment for food distribution, Yellowknifers can call 867-765-5003.

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