LISTOWEL – The It Takes a Village food pantry operates without collecting individual data when people get food.
“You don’t need government ID or any ID for that matter,” said Andrea Charest, executive director. “It’s self-attesting, and you can access the food pantry once a week.”
There is a form filled out to keep track of food given out in a month, but it does not collect data on the individual.
“It just tells us what people are getting over a month,” she said.
Some items are highlighted on the form.
“Those are items that we can give once a month,” said Charest. “They are things like a tub of margarine, laundry detergent – things that someone may not necessarily need every week, and secondary to that is that we cannot afford to give those things to someone every week.”
When reviewing the forms recently, she noticed that there are many things listed that they used to carry but cannot afford to have anymore.
“We are going to have to adapt our food pantry sheet and take some of those items off, and it does come down to money management,” said Charest. “What will sustain people the longest, and what is the best use of community money to order that food. So, we are going to have to take a lot of things off our list and then rely more on hoping people can use less canned and boxed goods and more fruits, vegetables, milk, eggs and bread.”
She acknowledged that balancing budgets with higher living costs is a common theme now.
“Everyone is struggling, and because we are independent, we are grassroots – we’re not under the umbrella of larger food bank conglomerations where they have bulk amounts and funding, and they can sustain some of the other food banks,” she said. “We are not involved in that because we are independent, so essentially we have to pay for food at market rate, and that is very expensive now.”
According to Charest, It Takes a Village spent about $500 per month for food pantry products before the pandemic.
“We’re now spending probably between $750 and $1,000 per month to be able to feed the community,” she said.
As an example, Charest pointed out that the cheapest box of macaroni and cheese is about 89 cents, and then when someone gets that product, they also require milk and margarine.
“Often, people don’t have those extra things,” she said. “So, one of the ways that we are going to try to move forward is to educate people to eat things that are not so prepared … Opening a can or a box is kind of how it has been. Suppose we are going to assist people in being successful through this pandemic and the aftermath, which will carry on for a very long time. In that case, we have to empower people to understand how to cook fruits, vegetables and products like that because the canned and prepackaged stuff is too expensive.”
Charest said the Village has relationships with some local stores, which allow them to offer fruits and vegetables to people who need food.
“Giant Tiger being one, Food Basics being another, but Giant Tiger very generously supports us twice weekly with fruits and vegetables that technically are seconds,” she said. “We also have people who will purchase potatoes, carrots, occasionally apples but apples are quite expensive at this time of year especially.”
Charest said there are hopes of starting an outdoor market.
“The Village will be the only vendor,” she said. “It’s not a market to make a profit, it’s a market to invest in social equity, so we will go around to farms and buy products from the producers, and we will bring them here and hopefully make those accessible to the community at cost or just marginally above cost.” She said.
The goal is to create a market in a very community-oriented inclusive setting on Saturdays.
“Hopefully, that is going to be a solution and a tool to help people understand more about eating things that are not processed but also empower them to be able to feed themselves and their people in a more dignified way, “said Charest. “We live in this great area, and Agriculture is so important. I mean growing things and producing things is what people do around here.”
She said that people looking to donate to food banks in the current economic climate could consider meat such as beef or pork.
“Those are something that we can’t give people very often because it’s costly for us to acquire,” said Charest. “So, to donate meat to a food bank, I think, is an amazing gift. Purchasing bulk 50 lb bags of potatoes, carrots, onions, apples, those sorts of things – foodbanks are so grateful for that kind of stuff.”
For a grassroots organization like It Takes a Village, she said it is challenging when people need a tax receipt for a donation.
“If you are not a registered charity, that’s not something you can offer those people, so that takes it off the table right there,” said Charest. “Then you have other folks who will just come forward, and they don’t ask about that at all. They are producers, they can do this, they can absorb that cost, and that feeds the community, so that’s amazing for people to do that.”
For more information on donating to It Takes A Village or to access services, call (519) 418-4651 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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