‘I feel a need to give this year’: Local mental health nurse donates over 100 bags of groceries to mental health clients

Grocery bags will be donated to Nest and S.H.A.R.E clients

Carol Campbell and Linda Breadner help move grocery bags that went out to mental health clients on Monday (Penny Ross/submitted photo)

A Prince Albert nurse and her peers have made a big impact on people suffering from mental health illnesses.

Penny Ross said she was discussing Christmas with her friends when they decided they didn’t have a lot of need for things this year.

They decided to donate the money they would’ve spent on Christmas presents to those experiencing mental illnesses instead.

That idea eventually developed into a food drive with a goal to provide groceries to mental health clients in the city.

The donations will be going to 38 clients with The Nest and three clients with S.H.A.R.E. Each client received three bags full of groceries.

Retired mental health staff and nurses from across Canada donated money to the cause. Ross has worked as a mental health nurse for 45 years.

“That’s where my heart lies,” she said during an interview on Monday.

“Mental health is quite often forgotten about and a lot of people don’t like to talk about mental illness and our clients are feeling the pandemic just as much if not more than anybody else.”

Ross added that a lot of places that offer free hot meals for clients are no longer open due to COVID-19 restrictions.

She isn’t completely sure how much all the groceries cost but says it’s “probably more” than $1,500. On top of food donations, she received $500 from proceeds at a dog agility trial and $1,000 from friends.

Ross says that mental health clients often aren’t able to work.

“They have severe symptoms sometimes that doesn’t allow them to work so they’re forced to exist on social assistance which is not a lot of money to buy groceries and pay rent,” Ross said.

Nest executive director Doug Kinar dropped off over half of the donations on Monday and said clients told him it was the perfect timing.

“With Christmas coming, the pressure to buy Christmas gifts puts a dent on your food bill so by getting a little bit of this food from Penny through these gift bags, they’re able to focus a little bit better and get a little more nutritious (food),” he said.

He added that some of the clients have never had that much food in their cupboards.

Kinar thinks the reason why people suffering from mental illness may need this more than others has “less to do with mental health and more to do with the state of society.”

The number of people accessing food banks are quite high, and Kinar says whether they have a mental illness or not is irrelevant.

“It’s a matter of during COVID times— people aren’t able to go out and shop the way they normally would. If they don’t have the money at that particular time or don’t have access or mobility it makes it very difficult. Or if they have higher anxiety then it makes it make that much more difficult to go out into public when the COVID-19 virus is out there.”

Retired mental health staff Julie Devaney, Carol Campbell and Linda Breadner helped Penny Ross sort, bag and move all this food that went out to mental health clients on Monday (Penny Ross/Submitted photo)