Mustard Seed adapts on the fly to reach people in need during pandemic

Like many on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mustard Seed Street Church in Victoria and other food banks across the country had to adapt quickly in the face of a deadly threat.

With more people out of work and others increasingly isolated at home, officials needed to figure out a way to keep workers safe and still get food to those who were no longer able to pick it up in person.

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A survey by Food Banks Canada found that 70 per cent of food banks either expanded home delivery services or put new programs in place to reach seniors, people with disabilities and others affected by pandemic lockdowns.

“What we saw was really quick adaptations and innovations,” said Kirstin Beardsley, chief network services officer. “Obviously, a lot of that required additional expenses to implement.”

Initially, the Mustard Seed, which receives money from the Times Colonist Christmas Fund, relied on a large team of volunteers delivering meals and hampers to homes. But as the pandemic continued and demand increased, the food bank streamlined its service by partnering with the 78 agencies that it supports.

“So that’s everything from high schools to retirement homes to Indigenous communities to churches to places like Our Place and other shelters,” said Janiene Boice, senior director. “They all pick up from us.”

The food bank used to pack about 400 hampers at its main location on Queens Avenue so that agencies could deliver them to people’s homes.

But officials shifted that work to its Esquimalt warehouse to meet the growing need and now packs 700 hampers.

“Each agency has a new relationship with us and they’re sending volunteer teams to pick up pre-made ready-to-go-to-family hampers,” Boice said. “That never happened before.”

Each hamper contains non-perishable foods as well as milk, butter and produce.

In addition, Boice said the food bank’s strong relationships with local grocery stores means that it’s able to put fresh meat, such as chicken breast or a roast in the hampers.

“And now, because the agencies are picking it up …we can keep them in the fridges or the freezers and get it directly to where it needs to go.”

Boice said the food distribution centre is currently picking up about 9,000 pounds of fresh products from grocery stores every day.

“The amount of donations is huge, but the need is huge,” she said.

lkines@timescolonist.com

HOW TO DONATE

The Times Colonist Christmas Fund, which supports the Mustard Seed and other organizations, is aiming to raise $1 million this year. On Thursday, the donation total inched a little closer, reaching $747,000 through 3,056 donations.

There are several ways to donate:

Go to timescolonist.com/donate. That takes you to the Canada Helps website, which is open 24 hours a day and provides an immediate tax receipt.

Mail a cheque, payable to the Times Colonist Christmas Fund Society, to the Times Colonist Christmas Fund, 201-655 Tyee Road, Victoria V9A 6X5.

Use your credit card by phoning 250-995-4438 between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., Monday through Friday. Outside those hours, messages will be accepted.

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