Food bank and PAGC preparing to help in difficult days ahead

The COVID-19 outbreak is putting some stress on community services around the province, but the executive director of the Prince Albert Food Bank says they’re committed to remaining open.

Kim Scruby said the next few months are going to be trying for the Prince Albert Food Bank as the demand increases, but he’s adamant they won’t be closing their doors.

“I know at least one other food bank in the province has closed, but we have no intention of doing that,” Scruby said during an interview on Thursday. “our pattern of demand here is such that, for our clients, we’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing, (and) taking every precaution that we possibly can.”

Demand for food bank services typically rises in the summer, but Scruby said they’re preparing for even steeper demand than usual as businesses temporarily close due to restrictions placed on them by the provincial government.

The food bank gave out 1,100 hampers of food in February, and Scruby is expecting a 50 per cent increase by April.

“It’s just kind of starting right now,” he said. “I think we’re going to really see it when the local economy slows down.”

Fortunately, some local organizations have already stepped forward to make the best of a bad situation. Northern Lights Casino recently donated all their perishable food items after SIGA announced the closure of all their Saskatchewan casinos earlier this week. A few local schools also donated perishable items from their school lunch program when the provincial government suspended classes.

“We’re preparing to be 50 per cent busier in April. I’m hoping that’s not the case, but when we’re in need we’ll reach out to the community and the community answers,” he said.

The food bank’s next fundraiser is scheduled for late May. Scruby said they haven’t decided if they’ll cancel it or not.

“At this point, it’s all up in the air,” he said. “It’s hard to plan anything at this point.”

At least one food bank has already closed in the province, while others are limiting their hours. A message on the Lac La Ronge Food Bank’s Facebook page said they would be closed starting Tuesday, March 17.

“This was a very tough decision,” read the message from the Lac La Ronge Food Bank board. “We are trying to slow down coronavirus in our communities. Please do what you can to keep yourself, your family and the community safe and well. Thank you.”

As the provincial government tightens restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Prince Albert Grand Council has taken the next step towards helping vulnerable Prince Albert residents.

Earlier this week the PAGC’s Urban Services division started collecting basic necessities for elders, single-parent families and disabled residents in Prince Albert.

Urban Services director Geo Despins said they’ve already started handing out some Emergency Care Packages, and hope to hand out many more as conditions get tougher.

“Our main focus is the elders and the vulnerable who can’t get around and struggle to find transportation,” Despins said between deliveries on Thursday. “That’s what we want.”

Despins said transit services can be really helpful for vulnerable residents, but right now it’s too much of a danger. They’re trying to minimize contact as much as possible, and that includes contact with PAGC employees who deliver the package. They’re being instructed to ring or knock at a house, then leave the care package on the front step and wait in their vehicle. Once the resident has opened the door and taken the care package, the employee drives away.

“We want to make sure everybody just stays clear of people and keeps their distance,” Despins said. “We’re following the COVID-19 rules. We want to make sure everybody’s washing their hands as well. We’re trying to get the message out to every family.”

Despins added that it’s been encouraging to see PAGC leaders, staff, Urban Services, and Prince Albert residents pull together during a difficult time.

“Everybody is doing their part and working,” he said. “It’s great to see that, everybody working together at a time of need.”

Anyone wishing to donate non-perishable food items and disinfecting supplies to the PAGC’s emergency care package program can do so at 1410B Central Avenue between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Donors are asked to call ahead to ensure the safety of staff and volunteers. The number is 306-765-5300.

The PAGC is asking for the following donations: dried pasta and rice, pasta sauce, canned soup, vegetables and beans, pet food and supplies, feminine hygiene products, thermometers, diapers, alcohol-based sanitizer, fever-reducing medication, facial tissue, toilet paper, paper towels, plastic garbage bags, dish soap, laundry detergent, household bleach, household cleaning products and soap.

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