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Food bank shelves empty in Nanaimo

Facing empty shelves in the Loaves and Fishes Community Food Bank’s warehouse on Farquhar Street, Peter Sinclair, executive director, would like to see more non-perishable goods like canned fish, canned vegetables, pasta and sauce and peanut butter. The food bank is facing a crisis of low donation numbers and more clients looking for help. - Chris Hamlyn/The News Bulletin
Facing empty shelves in the Loaves and Fishes Community Food Bank’s warehouse on Farquhar Street, Peter Sinclair, executive director, would like to see more non-perishable goods like canned fish, canned vegetables, pasta and sauce and peanut butter. The food bank is facing a crisis of low donation numbers and more clients looking for help.
— image credit: Chris Hamlyn/The News Bulletin

Peter Sinclair, Loaves and Fishes Community Food Bank executive director, looks around the organization’s Farquhar Street warehouse and sees empty shelves.

He sees empty pallets that should be storing non-perishable food items ready to be distributed to the more than 1,000 hungry people who use the service weekly in Nanaimo.

Summer is historically a slow time for donations at the food bank, but with an increase in clients, Loaves and Fishes is in crisis mode.

“We’re now at a point where we have $4,000 to $5,000 in inventory in our warehouse and need $40,000 to $50,000 to do a month,” said Sinclair. “Last year we thought we getting to this point in September but donations picked up. Here we are only midway through July and we’re scrapping the bottom.”

While some donations are still coming in, the food bank is seeing a sever reduction in non-perishable items.

And that means a reduction what clients receive in their hampers.

“We usually give out milk, eggs, fresh produce and non-perishable items per person to last, hopefully, three days. Right now we’re down to a day,” said Sinclair. “We’d like to see 10 non-perishables in a bag and we’re down to about five.”

Sinclair said reaction from clients to the reduction ranges from being thankful to disappointment – and in a small number of cases,  anger.

“Anger is not that often, but I don’t fault people,” he said. “When people go to the food bank and suddenly what they’re counting on isn’t there, they can be upset.”

It can be equally frustrating for Loaves and Fishes staff and volunteers.

“I spoke to a woman looking for food because all she had been eating for three days was Miracle Whip. She wasn’t complaining, she was just asking for help,” said Sinclair. “If that’s all she’s eating, you know there is no other food in the cupboard.”

The top five items in demand include canned fruits and vegetables, canned beans, canned fish, pasta and pasta sauces and peanut butter.

“We would like to get the key items, the staples to build a complete hamper,” said Sinclair. “So we get the word out through the media and we hold food drives when we can. People want to help, they just need to know the situation we’re in.”

Sinclair said the doors to the food bank will never close. They will just continue to manage the situation.

“There is still hundreds of people donating. There is food coming in. It’s just not where it was a few months ago,” he said. “Those who are giving are doing what they can.”

For more information on Loaves and Fishes and it’s seven satellite food bank locations, please go towww.nanaimoloavesandfishes.org or call 250-754-8347.

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