John Humphrey Centre teams with food bank to deliver to Edmontonians in need

In the COVID-19 pandemic, not everyone who needs food can easily get to the food bank depots themselves. That’s why one non-profit group has stepped up with a team of volunteers delivering hampers to Edmontonians in need.

The John Humphrey Centre, an organization normally focused on promoting peace and human rights, teamed up with the Edmonton Food Bank to deliver to people stuck at home self-isolating.

Renee Vaugeois, executive director of John Humphrey Centre, said when the province reported its first cases of COVID-19, they cancelled scheduled public events, got in touch with the food bank and created dispatch teams. 

The group has delivered to more than 500 families in the Edmonton region in the past three weeks, Vaugeois told CBC News Tuesday. 

“We have a lot of people who need food now,” she said. “While the food bank plays a certain role, it can’t play all roles.” 

The dispatch team can also answer emergency calls, such as people who can’t wait several days for the prescribed hampers, she said. 

In one case, a nurse got in touch with the John Humphrey Centre about a senior in desperate need. 

“This is probably the most heart-breaking day for me,” Vaugeois said. “She had not eaten in well over three days, she had zero food.” 

The criteria for delivery are specific: those with compromised immune systems, seniors and low-income people who are required to self-isolate. 

“We’re also finding that people are falling through the cracks,” she said. “So we’re going to try to find other ways to support people.” 

Even if someone doesn’t fit the food bank requirements, such as single parents with kids at home who may not be low-income, they’re still trying to co-ordinate help through the online community.

The John Humphrey Centre also created a Facebook group called Yeg community response COVID-19

“It’s been incredibly overwhelming,” Vaugeois said of the group, which is now at more than 19,000 members. 

“We’re mobilizing on the Facebook group to get people in the community to help with picking up those urgent needs for some families.” 

Marjorie Bencz, executive director of the Edmonton Food Bank, said they were getting more calls and requests for information and home delivery. 

“We had a whole rash of people calling because they thought the food bank was going to run out of food,” Bencz said. “Panicky phone calls.”

People using the food bank are already stressed and vulnerable, she noted. 

“Fear of not having enough food and those kinds of things is much more escalated than would be in a normal day-to-day situation.” 

Bencz said in the past week or so, the organization has had fewer panicked clients calling.

The food bank had to close 20 depots at small buildings, such as churches, because of the two-metre physical distancing measures.

“We’ve opened up substitution depots and that’s been working out really well.” 

More depots will be opening next week.

People unsure about the location of their closest depot should call the food bank, she said. 

Vaugeois worries that as time goes on, Edmontonians will have less to give. 

She said grassroots agencies are meeting each week to make sure they’re supporting each other and coming up with ways to deal with the new challenges presented by COVID-19 pandemic. 

She sees the need to bolster and create really strong teams around the Facebook group and around the dispatch net so the effort can get stronger. 

“We do know that we’re still in the entry periods into this and it is going to deepen.”

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