Miracle aftermath: More food needed

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A volunteer sorts through some of the food at one of the Wallaceburg collection sites on May 16. Overseers of two Chatham food banks say they are in need of more food for the coming winter to support those in need.

May 16 Miracle food mostly used

By Bruce Corcoran

With nearly 680,000 pounds of food collected from the May 16 Miracle, why is it local food banks are looking for assistance less than five months later?

According to Miracle organizers and food bank officials, the answer is not a simple one.

It breaks out to supply and demand, but on a complex scale.

Brenda LeClair, executive director of Outreach for Hunger, said the Chatham-based food bank received several truckloads of support from the Miracle, but now it has some bare shelves, and winter’s coming.

She is worried, as she believes there is a misconception that Outreach for Hunger is teeming with food.

“My understanding is that there were a lot of pop-up food banks with the idea to distribute the food out into the community,” LeClair said. “The way it was distributed, it got out to a lot of people who needed it, I’m sure.”

Brent Wilken, one of the organizers of the May 16 Miracle, said the food was ultimately distributed to 44 different organizations in Chatham-Kent that help feed those in need.

Wilken said on top of supporting the multitude of organizations, he believes the Miracle helped reach others in need who had not tapped into a food bank.

“Canada wide, as an average, only one in four people who need to use a food bank use it. The rest who are food insecure may be too ashamed, too proud to use a food bank,” he said.

But Wilken added the Miracle effort helped put food in the hands of many of those people in Chatham-Kent.

“The real miracle is how much we got to those other people. No questions asked, people came and brought food to many others in need,” he said. “Maybe we reached three out of four for a time, maybe half. That’s where the real miracle was. And for the exceptional amount of people who went out and found those people in need.”

LeClair said people may not have realized the vast demand on the food donation system in Chatham-Kent.

“So many people assumed it was all coming to us. I don’t think it was clearly defined what agencies received the food or how the money raised was dispersed,” she said.

LeClair said she doesn’t want to sound critical of the Miracle, but rather wants to clear any misconceptions people might have had.

“I think the idea was fantastic. It brought the community together in a very positive way,” she said. “They did a great job, did a fantastic job trying to support the community and pulling it together in such a short time. I just don’t want the community thinking we are set and good.”

Capt. Stephen Holland of the Salvation Army in Chatham-Kent said the May 16 effort was indeed a miracle, but one with some limits.

“They did a wonderful job. It was so successful,” he said. “But that food, it’s not going to fill everybody’s belly for a full year. People have asked, ‘What happened to all the food collected in May?’ Well, it’s gone. People eat. We recently put out a request for donations.”

LeClair added Outreach will need community support as the weather turns.

“We definitely need support going into the fall. This will definitely be an issue for all food banks in Ontario in the fall,” she said, expecting continued higher demand due to higher unemployment as a result of COVID-19. “We’re seeing more people coming in now who have not been here in over a year. They were able to get on their feet and get going, but suddenly they need the food banks again.”

Holland said his organization received a great deal of support in outlying communities, but only had so much space in Chatham in May.

With outlets in Ridgetown, Blenheim and Wallaceburg, essentially most of the food raised in each area stayed in those areas.

“All the food in Ridgetown that was gathered was going into our food bank there. The rest we gave to the community there, with an open-door event,” Holland said. “Our Ridgetown food bank couldn’t possibly have held all that.”

In Wallaceburg, Holland said the food came into the warehouse and it went onto the food bank shelves, to the point of overflowing.

“What we couldn’t use, we gave to some of the churches and sent some to Walpole Island as well,” he said.

The Salvation Army utilizes a church basement in Blenheim, and stocked it up with the Miracle, and donated supplies to a local soup kitchen, Holland said.

In Chatham, he said the Salvation Army had a good deal of food on hand in May, thanks to boxed deliveries from Food Banks Canada. But he knows there will soon be a need again.

“Come Christmas, I’m sure it will be a lot different. Everything’s unknown,” he said.

LeClair said Outreach benefitted from food hampers from Feed Ontario, but added they are about to come to the end of those donations, and then the food bank will be “relying heavily on whatever else is coming in.”

Wilken said the organizers of the May 16 Miracle are keeping tabs on what is taking place in the communities.

“We needed a miracle at that time (May 16). What does Chatham-Kent need next? We’re working on something,” he said.

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