COVID-19 causes Winnipeg Harvest volunteer and donation shortages, workspace closures

By | March 17, 2020

Winnipeg Harvest is running short of volunteers and workspace, and expects a shortage of donations as the economy worsens because of the coronavirus, CEO Keren Taylor-Hughes says.

More than half of Harvest’s food banks run in places of worship, and many of the programs are being run by seniors, Taylor-Hughes said on CBC’s Information Radio Tuesday.

“As a result of that, they’re not opening because they are, of course, a very high-risk group and — rightly so — don’t want to expose themselves,” she said.

Harvest started receiving calls last week about food banks closing, she said.

“We’re just trying to make sure that the folks that we know regularly make food bank visits are able to have those, or are redistributing them to other places that are open.”

Winnipeg’s suburbs are most affected, because that’s where many of the churches are, Taylor-Hughes said.

“We’re chatting with them about how we can help them stay open, have very limited contact and moving to a different model,” she said. 

“Quite often we do a shopping model in the food banks, where people can come in and select different items themselves. We’re now going to move to a packaged-hamper model.”

Food banks running out of inner-city community centres were a concern as well, after the City of Winnipeg announced they were closing the clubs last weekend, but Taylor-Hughes said the city is still letting Winnipeg Harvest operate its food banks out of the centres.

As Harvest figures out how to continue operations, they’re looking for food or money donations, Taylor-Hughes said.

“Most of our food comes through our retail program and through our [Tin for the Bin program]. Unfortunately, because of the consumer panic and buying a lot of things in bulk, we’re finding a lot of shelves are bare as a result,” she said.

“People are not remembering the food bank, and our normal retail programs are not able to supply us with food.”

On top trying to supply its regular demand, Taylor-Hughes is concerned Winnipeg Harvest may have to handle an increase in demand, as people lose work because COVID-19 forced employers to shut down.

“Canadians are basically two or three paycheques away from using the food bank,” she said.

If people suddenly find out their food bank is closed, they can contact the Winnipeg Harvest warehouse at 204-982-3676 to learn where else they can go.

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