As a recent project, the Kitimat Food Share program took over a community garden from the District, so they could grow herbs and vegetables to help supplement food donations. They’re hoping to expand the garden even further going forward. (Clare Rayment)

Kitimat Food Share program looking at changes amidst COVID-19 regulations

The Kitimat Food Share program is using this time to increase their impact in the community.

The Kitimat Food Share program, soon to be renamed, ‘The Pantry’ is taking the COVID-19 restrictions and using them as a time to update and change some of the ways they run, to increase their impact with the homeless population and those in need in the community.

‘The Cornerstone’ is the name of the location in City Centre Mall that Tamitik Status of Women (TSW) which runs the Food Share program, shares with the Kitimat Community Development Centre (CDC) and that they run the Food Share program out of. But with restrictions in place, they haven’t been allowing people into the building to get their food, or for any other drop-in programs, according to Patricia Wiebe, who runs the Food Share program.

READ MORE: Kitmat Food Bank usage down, donations up amid COVID-19 pandemic

Many of their clients have been using Douglas Place, the cold weather shelter that is usually only open in winter, but has been opened for those in need during COVID-19. However, the shelter is used for sleeping and nighttime use only and closes at 7 a.m.

Usually, these clients would then come to the Food Share program, where Wiebe would be waiting with a cup of coffee and a warm place to sit. The clients also come to do a check-in and let Wiebe know that they’re okay.

“[The check-in] is important to let them know that they matter,” Wiebe said. “And that’s absolutely important, just no barriers, very welcoming and warm, and no judgment, that’s very important to us.”

Now, instead of bringing them in and letting them have a cup of coffee and get settled, users of the program have to wait outside and try to physically distance from one another, while waiting for a cup of coffee from Wiebe.

“With COVID, having to tell them they have to stay outside is hurting a lot of people,” Wiebe said.

“She [Patricia] doesn’t want it to feel like a charity, she wants it to feel like a marketplace,” said Michelle Martins, Director of Services at the TSW. She added that the restrictions are “a deterrent, I mean that kind of ‘community feel’ has lessened.”

While all of the drop-in programs have closed, the majority of other programs the TSW runs have adapted with new rules in place, to protect both the staff and the clients. Martins said the TSW did shut down for a few weeks while they tried to figure out what protocols to put in place to keep everyone safe, and the number of users went from hundreds per month pre-COVID, to much fewer after they reopened.

“I think our clientele are scared,” Martins said. “I think they’re self-isolating. I think they’re scared to access [our services].”

However, Martins said that forcing the changes for COVID-19 has allowed them to start working on some other updates and plans that they had been meaning to work towards beforehand.

“It’s a good time for us to look at changing things, so that we’re still ensuring safety with our staff and with our clients, but also still meeting those needs.”

One of the new projects includes a community garden that they took over from the District just outside of The Cornerstone. Here, they were able to plant herbs and vegetables to help create full meals and supplement donations from grocery stores, community members, and industrial stakeholders.

Another big upcoming project, in partnership with the CDC, is to conduct a homeless count in Kitimat, as the number is often debated, Martins said.

“Kitimat’s homelessness is quite unique, in comparison to what you would find in a larger centre, like Vancouver or Toronto.”

The homeless population in Kitimat is quite hidden compared to that of larger cities, Martins said, and it’s not very common to find people panhandling or congregating in large or even small groups. It’s more common to find people staying out in bush, where wildlife becomes a major concern, or staying in large numbers in small residences.

“Terrace did a homeless count last year,” Martins said. “The District didn’t do a homeless count at that time, so now the District is supporting both [the CDC and the TSW] to organize that for this year.”

Other than that, Martins and Wiebe said they’re just looking to keep donations coming in while they try to adjust themselves and their clients to the new way of running. Donations became an issue especially at the beginning of the pandemic, when people were panic-buying and leaving the shelves bare.

Anything anyone can donate is appreciated, Wiebe said, as it takes some of the stress off her and the others, and allows them to take the time to focus on helping their clients in other ways and work more on their upcoming projects and changes.

“Cans, hygiene products, frozen dinners, time, volunteering,” Wiebe said. “It’s less about what you donate and more about the fact that we’re excited that you’re donating something.”

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