As panic-buying continues across the country, Feed Nova Scotia says it is managing its food supply by the hour while expecting to see demand rise and supplies dwindle.
Closed restaurants have been donating their perishable food to the organization, while urging others to do the same.
The organization that supplies 141 food banks around the province is trying to figure out how it can shift from being driven mainly by volunteers to mainly run by staff, said executive director Nick Jennery.
“We had a very real labour problem right from the get-go,” he said Saturday.
The Feed Nova Scotia warehouse is not designed for people to maintain a six-foot separation and volunteers stopped their shifts when ordered to stay home, if possible.
“All of those things immediately put us into a tailspin,” he said.
Then there was the problem of the food supply.
“Every retail store, every food bank across the country, they’re all trying to get food,” Jennery said. “And there is food out there, but it’s locked up in the supply chain. The wholesalers are trying to replenish the retail stores. So there is a little bit of lag time.”
On Thursday, the province’s community services minister announced a $1-million donation to Feed Nova Scotia, which Jennery said is expected to land in the organization’s bank account on Monday morning.
As soon as the announcement was made, Jennery said he put in a large order for food to their retail and wholesale partners.
“It’s not easy to do because everybody’s asking for a lot of the same food, all at the same time. But I’m hopeful that we will keep the flow of food going,” he said.
Jennery said Feed Nova Scotia distributes about $1-million worth of food each month. He also anticipates the number of people using food banks is going to increase, although he can’t say by how much.
Feed Nova Scotia has about two weeks worth of inventory, which is standard for this time of year.
Jennery said he isn’t sure what it will mean for the organization if the COVID-19 pandemic lasts for an extended period of time. Some major donors, such as farmers and retail businesses, are struggling.
“With increasing demand, with a questionable inbound supply, with the need to re-engineer our distribution channels, there are a lot of questions up in the air,” he said.
Restaurants step in
As the food bank supplier tries to figure out these problems, help has come from a new quarter — restaurants that are closing down to protect their staff and customers.
“We make everything fresh, so we have a lot of produce in-house,” said Chris Connolly, the owner-operator of the Halifax location of Mexi’s.
Although some Nova Scotia restaurants are still offering take-out, Connolly made the decision earlier in the week to close altogether.
After making up care packages for staff to take home, Connolly donated the rest by dropping it off at Feed Nova Scotia.
“A lot of bulk items — cases of green peppers, red peppers, cheese, any non-perishable you could think,” he said. “Romaine lettuce … carrots, cucumbers, zucchini, some milk products as well. Good, nutritious food.”
Altogether, the donation was about half a pallet of food, and more than half of the supply in Mexi’s kitchen.
“It’s the right thing to do,” he said. “These are unprecedented times. We need to band together. I need to leverage whatever I can leverage to make a difference.
“I can’t be in the hospital giving care, I can’t be in the front lines responding. But if this little bit helps the chain … then that’s what we need to do.”
Craig Flinn, the owner of Chives, 2 Doors Down Halifax and 2 Doors Down Dartmouth, also made a donation of any food that could not be frozen.
They sealed and froze what they could.
“The immediate prepped stuff was given to my staff for meals, and then the bigger-ticket items which are perishable and unopened [we donated].”
That included more than 400 kilograms of food, including cases of eggs, potatoes, root vegetables, kale, broccoli and other perishables.
Safe to drop off food
“The staff were behind the glass and there to answer questions … but then once you drive away then they’ll come out and they’ll take the stuff in. So it’s a very safe system.”
Flinn urges the public to donate any food they do not need to Feed Nova Scotia.
“Please don’t let anything go to waste,” he said. “We can’t waste one potato or one onion right now. It’s a crucial time.”
Flinn, who has a young family, said he understands why people are fearful and may be trying to stock up their own supplies. But he thinks there has been over-purchasing and urges people to think of others.
“A lot of the product that has been sort of stockpiled is not going to get used, I really believe that,” he said.
“If a week or two from now, maybe things will shift a little bit. I would simply ask that people re-evaluate and see how much they could donate. Any amount helps. It could be a couple of cans of something that you feel is not going to put you and your family at risk. There are other families that really need it.”
Feed Nova Scotia suggests the best way to donate is still by giving money through its website. Perishable and non-perishable food donations can be dropped off in donation bins at the front entrance of 67 Wright Avenue in Dartmouth, or at local food banks.
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