Cape Breton food banks, soup kitchens adjust services amid COVID-19

Cape Breton food banks and soup kitchens are already making changes — or are considering when to implement them — in order to continue helping people in need in the face of challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Marco Amati, general manager of Loaves and Fishes in Sydney, said the soup kitchen has lots of food for now, but drastic changes had to be made starting on Monday.

“We usually have clients come in, sit down and have their meal,” he said. “Now, it’s takeout, so we don’t have any clients in the building, but we’re still feeding people.

“This is a troubling time right now and we’re all going through it together, but we’ll make sure people are always going to get fed.”

Amati said Loaves and Fishes is in good shape for food and supplies, but a number of volunteers have called and said they won’t be coming in during the pandemic.

Loaves and Fishes general manager Marco Amati says the Sydney, N.S., food bank has enough food and supplies for now, but he spent a good part of the day on Monday fielding calls from concerned volunteers. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

At the Glace Bay food bank, voluntary visitor restrictions are in place and handwashing is emphasized more than ever.

Apart from that, it is mostly business as usual, said co-ordinator Michelle Kalbhenn.

She said the soup kitchen upstairs serves up to 50 meals a day, but not all at the same time.

“Most of our clients come in, eat and leave, so it’s not like a big gathering place,” Kalbhenn said. “They don’t stay long.”

Krystle Gracie, a client and volunteer, said the Glace Bay food bank is doing what it can to keep clients and volunteers safe.

“We’re limiting our contact physically and we’re just following guidelines just to keep it as sanitary as we can,” she said.

Kalbhenn said the food bank needs toilet paper and hand sanitizer, but food stocks are good, for now.

“We’re just going to take it day by day,” she said.

“Until there’s a confirmed case in Cape Breton, we will probably keep the doors open and at that time, it’ll be takeout only.”

Glace Bay food bank co-ordinator Michelle Kalbhenn says it’s mostly business as usual, because the soup kitchen upstairs serves up to 50 meals a day, but not all at the same time. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Sharon MacLean, chair of the Sydney Mines food bank, said her board will meet this week to discuss the logistics of having clients come inside to pick up groceries and supplies.

The difficulty, she said, is that different size families have different needs.

Regardless, said MacLean, volunteers will find a way to make it work for their clients.

“We have to stay open,” she said. “They’re the most vulnerable.

“A lot of people can go and stockpile, but with the needy, they can’t do that.”

Volunteers Florence MacNeil and Jerry Pocius are happy to hand out meals at the Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen, now that clients are no longer allowed inside. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Nick Jennery, executive director of Feed Nova Scotia, said the umbrella agency serves about 42,000 people through 140 food banks across the province.

He said some of the food banks may need to close.

“We’re working with the Emergency Measures Office and the Department of Community Services to see how we can collectively support those communities,” he said.

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