Feeding the Hungry Amidst the Pandemic

April 28, 2020 Updated: April 29, 2020

Immersed in a constant stream of COVID-19 statistics—of cases, deaths, job losses, and business closures—it’s easy to forget that there’s another side of the story. There are the large numbers of people who have recovered, which brings hope, and those who have stepped forward to help out in these unsettling times.

“Amongst the darkness, there is a lot of light,” said Laura Bogner, coordinator for the Storehouse Food Bank, a mission of the Southside Worship Centre in Ajax, Ont.

Bogner got involved in the food bank nine years ago, when it serviced around five families per week. By early 2020, before the pandemic struck, the average had grown to between 15 and 20 families per week, all served on one day. The Storehouse now operates five days a week while also doing deliveries to seniors and those with COVID-19.

But as much as the demand has increased, so have the donations and the offers to help stack, sort, and clean. There are two to four donations a day from anybody and everybody, including neighbours, companies, even another food bank that could no longer operate because its volunteer team was comprised of seniors. Now, donations have almost exceeded the number of food bank recipients. This is not the norm by any means, but it’s just some of what the team at Storehouse has experienced, including, in turn, being able to give to other food banks.

“I had the local Legion donate their chips. I had Marshalls donate all their candy and chocolate, which has been a nice little bag of comfort that I give to all the families,” said Bogner.

But apart from the donations, it’s the people who make this story so special. A family came to pick up food but wanted to help after seeing the Durham Regional Police Service drop off donations with a forklift. “I was like, no you don’t have to earn your food,” Bogner joked.

A person who was a recipient before the pandemic called to ask if the food bank was still running, not to receive but to donate. Others just want to be a part of something meaningful.

“They all just want to be a part of something positive—something that helps,” Bogner said.

“Not just that we’re in our houses, and we’re doing this together. We talk about that—COVID, we’re in this together. But it doesn’t feel like that. It’s a great saying but it’s not changing how we feel. But people come over and say, ‘I just want to touch something positive that really does mean we’re in this together, and I did this for somebody else.’”

She went on to say that people need motivation outside of themselves.

“Some people aren’t seeing staying at home as doing it for somebody else. They mostly think they’re keeping themselves safe, so they’re still not feeling that they can make a difference. So, people giving is them helping.”

From the one-time volunteers to the regular Storehouse team, they are all a part of a caring lifeline that is reaching out to those in need.

Bogner says 85 percent of the Storehouse’s clients are now first-timers. “You hear them go from anxiety to where they can breathe again, and it may only be for a few weeks of food,” she said.  “But just hearing that change in their voice to say, ‘Thank you. I can feed my family now.’ Helping to take part of that weight off is incredible.”

It’s important to the Storehouse team to make families feel comfortable and unembarrassed for having to avail of the food bank. Many have lost their job, applied for the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit, and just need help with groceries.

In Bogner’s various roles at the Southside Worship Centre, she’s helped out in all sorts of situations, from babysitting children whose parent had to be rushed to hospital because of a suicide attempt to caring for those who care for others, like the nurse at a hard-hit long-term care home who works 14-hour days and has seen at least 40 of her residents pass away from COVID-19.

“I’ve seen heartbreak, but somehow too I’ve seen the most incredible moments of people giving and sharing and wanting to even just be a part of it,” she said. “If we just open our eyes, we will see some light. I’ve seen just as much good as I’ve seen hardship.”