Executive director Bernadette Siracky is guiding the Kamloops Food Bank through an unprecedented crisis with the help of staff, volunteers and benevolent residents.
She spoke to KTW on Wednesday, nearly out of breath while bouncing from topic to topic, aiming to educate readers on how they can help the organization fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cash and food
Food bank manpower has been restricted, with the provincial government limiting public gatherings to 50 people.
The best way to help limited staff and volunteers is to offer cash or food donations.
“Usually, in these times of crisis, we would call on our community to come and volunteer and help,” Siracky said. “We can’t do that. Unprecedented is definitely the case. I can’t remember a time where we’ve ran out perishable items for our clients, which we did on Tuesday.”
The food bank is practising social distancing by allowing a maximum of 10 clients in the building at a time, each of whom must apply hand sanitizer upon entry.
“We can’t work from home,” Siracky said. “We also don’t want to close our doors. That does not seem like a viable option to us.”
Donate money online at kamloopsfoodbank.org.
Food donations are being accepted from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the red receiving door at 171 Wilson St. in North Kamloops.
Panic buying is hindering the food bank’s ability to feed clients.
“They’ve really put a strain on the supply chain for these stores,” Siracky said. “Save-On, Safeway, Independent, Costco, Superstore, the warehouses are running out and the stores are getting short on their orders. They need to have something on their shelves. They can’t sell their entire stock of soup to us.”
Prior to the pandemic, many clients picked up hampers weekly. Visits have now been limited to once every two weeks.
Clients are normally allowed to select what goes into their hampers, which are now pre-made by staff.
“Everybody is in a bit of a panic mode, including our clients,” Siracky said. “People were taking more than they needed, only because they’re feeling panicked, as well. We’ve sort of removed the choice, but that ensures product and stock can last as long as possible.”
Siracky is worried about clients hovering around the poverty line.
“When they’re not working for a day or two days or a week, that affects them in a very powerful way,” she said.
Ten School District 73 programs rely on the food bank to provide for children.
“The kids depending on them are not in school and we don’t have any way to deliver it to their homes,” Siracky said. “All of these government decisions are for physical safety, but they have ramifications. We need to remain open. Safety is key.”
Kamloops steps up
Siracky’s morning on Wednesday started with call from Jeff Winger of Progressive Rubber.
“He didn’t even say hi,” Siracky said. “He just said, ‘What do you need?’”
Representatives from Cascades Casino Kamloops, Chances Kamloops, TRU Culinary Arts and the Noble Pig delivered non-perishable food items on Wednesday.
“Mike Miltimore from Riversong Guitars … the list goes on,” Siracky said. “I’ve had voicemails and emails all day long from people just wanting to help. The hard part about this one is you’re not able to do that physically.”
Siracky said the food bank received an “absolutely stunning” haul from Chances and Cascades.
“Kamloops does what Kamloops does so well in times of crisis — it just surrounds the charities in town with support,” she said. “That, today, was incredibly clear.”
Rotary Food Drive
Plans have changed for this year’s Rotary Food Drive, on April 18, which seems likely to become the most important on record.
“We’re really hoping that Kamloops hears our call and puts out their yellow bag [now biodegradable] and that Rotarians go out in full force and pick them up,” Siracky said. “That food drive is going to be of ultra-importance to us.”
Restrictions to public gatherings mean Rotarians will not be treated to breakfast or lunch, meals that normally bookend a morning spent picking up donations across the city.
“It’s usually a fun time because people are putting some real meaning to compassion and generosity,” Siracky said. “It’s going to change the whole energy of that day, but fingers are crossed our donations aren’t diminished because of it.”
Yellow-bag donations will be collected and brought to the food bank’s parking lot, where they will be dropped off and sorted.
“We’ve really had to be flexible with our plans, as directives come out from our governments, provincial and national,” Siracky said.“We really want to follow that and provide food for as many people as possible in our community for as long as possible, with safety as a key factor.”