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Food bank in critical need of support for Christmas hampers

If everyone contributes what they can, the food bank administrator believes the needs of the food bank can be met during this Christmas season.

CANORA - “Many hands make light work.”

Pastor Mavis Watson, volunteer administrator at Filling the Gap Food Bank in Canora, is well aware that most residents in Canora and surrounding area are dealing with the pressures of cost of living increases in recent months. But she is convinced that if everyone helps out in any way they can, the food bank will be able to respond to the growing local need for assistance.

“Last year we were so blessed and grateful by the outpouring of community support, and would love to see that again,” said Watson.

“We are in desperate need of cash donations. Cash gives us the flexibility to see what’s needed and then go out and buy it. For instance, we might have 35 hamper requests and only six turkeys donated. With cash we can buy what’s needed to fill out those hampers.”

The need for the services of Filling the Gap seems to be constantly growing and changing.

“A number of new people have moved here in recent months; some for lower living costs, some looking for employment, and now that harvest is over, they need our help,” shared Watson. “There is high employment in the energy field as well.

“Many from that field are coming to smaller towns. I have noticed a real shift lately; there have been a lot more new arrivals to the community requesting assistance.”

Watson said the Christmas season is definitely their busiest time of the year.  For those interested in donating food items, the greatest needs at this time of year are: coffee, evaporated milk, canned tomatoes, canned beans, canned vegetables, salad dressing, juice, crackers, cookies, canned spaghetti and pasta sauce. Watson said they have plenty of noodles on the shelves. Hams and turkeys are always welcome during the Christmas season.

Needed non-food items include: toilet paper, laundry soap, dish soap and shampoo.

The contents of a hamper can be adjusted to meet the needs of the recipient.

“A single mom might only be looking for baby formula because she can’t afford it right now,” explained Watson. “Whatever the need, we want to help them have a really nice Christmas and not have to worry about feeding themselves or their families.”

Watson said it warms her heart to receive donations from residents who don’t have a lot to spare when it comes to filling their own needs.

“Many seniors, who are living on fixed incomes, buy an extra can of something every week or whenever they buy groceries. It adds up to a significant donation after a couple of months. They don’t have a lot but they want to do something to help, and it always blesses me.”

Like almost everything, the cost of filling a complete Christmas hamper just keeps rising.

“Last year, the cost of a hamper for a single person was about $150,” reported Watson. “This year, for the same items, it would be $175 to $180, about a 20 per cent increase.”

Watson emphasizes that she is very cautious with donations and how they are handed out. People asking for help are carefully vetted.

“The Canora Ministerial Association oversees the operations of Filling The Gap. Referrals of names of those in need come from other pastors, as well as other community leaders including: RCMP, Social Services, Canora Ambulance, banks, public health, and also partnering with the office of Canora-Pelly MLA Terry Dennis.

It has been a welcome development for Watson to see a number of volunteers from local churches help with packing and delivering hampers.

“It really helps my back with the carrying,” she admitted. “The young volunteers are really excited to help every week. On average, lately we’ve been distributing five to eight hampers per week, up to 25 hampers per month. It looks like these numbers will continue to rise.”

Watson said she has seen first-hand heartbreaking examples of families who need help from the food bank.

“In one of our local families, there is a handicapped son, the wife and mother is dying of cancer, and the husband and father has a bad back and is on disability.

“Sometimes it’s moms whose husbands left and aren’t paying child support, and they can’t pay for everything the kids need. Taking their absentee husbands to court usually takes months, and they need help right now. It would surprise many people if they found out who is asking for help.

“Sometimes I meet people in secret to give out hampers because they are embarrassed, and want it to look to their neighbours like they are bringing home groceries from the store rather than having hampers delivered right to their home.

 “I’ve had seniors ask for help for the first time in their lives and they’re so embarrassed, they break down in tears. I want to leave them with their dignity. The need is very real. These are not made up stories.”

Watson has been overwhelmed by the support shown for the food bank for over a decade since she first became involved.

“I don’t know what I would do without the help of the community.”

The increasing pressure on the food bank is not only found in Canora. According to the Food Banks Canada website at, 19 per cent (almost one in five) of Canadians said that since March 2020, there was at least one instance where they were hungry but didn’t eat because there wasn’t enough money for food.

Individuals interested in donating funds are encouraged to phone Watson at 306-563-5315. Arrangements can be made for pickup of a donation, or a cheque can be mailed to: Filling the Gap Food Bank Canora, PO Box 957, Canora, Sk. S0A 0L0.



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