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Food bank in desperate need of funds for Christmas hampers

Financial support needed in order to feed the less fortunate during the holiday season.
Food bank cash_result
Pastor Mavis Watson, volunteer administrator of Filling the Gap Food Bank in Canora, is urgently looking for financial support in the Christmas season. Hamper requests are coming in, but at this point she is unable to fill the hampers due to a lack of funds. / Mavis Watson

The holiday season is referred to by many as “The Season of Giving.” Filling the Gap Food Bank of Canora is in urgent need of that type of financial support over the next several weeks, according to Pastor Mavis Watson, who has been the volunteer administrator of Filling the Gap for over a decade.

“We had wonderful donations in the spring, but things have really dried up since then,” said Watson. “The donations resulting from the recent Canora Composite School food drive were very much appreciated, but even there, the collection was about half the size as usual. Probably the main reason is that everything is more expensive lately and people are worried about money.”

Watson said donations of turkeys would be welcome, since they can be frozen and used later for Christmas hampers. “We appreciate donations, but please no more breakfast cereal for a while. We probably have at least 200 boxes of it right now.”

But the biggest need is financial. Having money in the bank allows for the purchase of perishable items for Christmas hampers- including bread, meat, fruit, sandwich meats, milk, eggs and so on. At the moment, all Watson has on hand for Christmas hampers is dry goods. She said she has never experienced such a lack of money in all her years at Filling the Gap.

“Usually in past years, community service groups, social clubs and community businesses have all donated financially but giving has been significantly less this year,” she explained. “People sometimes forget that a food bank is an ongoing effort and need, not just for special occasions.”

Watson has noticed an influx of new requests for assistance, both from newcomers to the community and from those who have been here quite a while.

“There has been a significant loss of jobs lately, including in the energy industry. These are prideful people and don’t like to ask for help, but now they need it. With the COVID situation, in 2020 there seemed to be more financial assistance from the government but apparently not as many people are getting it any more. The price of just about everything has gone up.”

Christmas is usually the busiest time of year at Filling the Gap, and the lack of available funds is making things much more difficult. A Christmas hamper will normally include a typical Canadian Christmas dinner with extra food and canned goods to give the recipient about a week’s worth of food. Last year Watson fielded 55 Christmas hamper requests and already had received a dozen by late November. And the price tag for filling those hampers keeps rising.

“About a year ago, the cost for a hamper for a single person was about $125 to $130, including items such as toothpaste and laundry soap,” she shared. “Now, the same thing is $150 to $160 for one person (about a 20 per cent increase), and probably $180 to $190 for a family of four. Recipients are asked what they prefer, we don’t do exactly the same hamper for everyone. Some might not know how to prepare a turkey and may prefer a ham instead. We don’t supply Christmas dinner for visitors. We’re very careful with money, the hamper is only for the family that applied. Visitors will have to pay their own way.”

Watson estimated she spends about $2,500 to $3,000 on perishable goods in an average Christmas season. And the need continues in the weeks right after Christmas.

“It’s almost as busy as Christmas,” reported Watson. “People spent almost everything they have on Christmas for the kids, it’s so hard to say ‘no’ to the kids at Christmas time. And then they don’t have enough left for the basics in January.”

Filling the Gap is an emergency service the rest of the year, and more of a benevolent service at Christmas. The Canora Ministerial Association oversees its operations. Referrals of names of those in need of assistance come from other pastors, as well as other community leaders including RCMP, Social Services, Canora Ambulance, banks, and public health. Those who receive hampers are eligible to apply again after two months have gone by. Watson is very careful that people don’t use the food bank as part of their family budget.

Even after over a decade of service, she continues to faithfully work for the less fortunate.

“My Christian faith keeps me motivated,” Watson continued. “Am I my brother’s keeper? Yes, I believe I am. It’s a hard thing to do, giving time for free. Many people are willing to give a couple of hours here and there, but not on a long-term basis. It’s hard work physically doing hampers, and I don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep going. It’s very draining, tiring and can be discouraging. I get late night phone calls, sometimes from people stranded on the highway and they can’t get home. Sometimes I’ll end up going out and finding them. Sometimes a family member has died and they don’t have any food, and don’t know what to do. Volunteer workers normally experience a high level of burnout, probably because they never really get away from it. I’m very grateful for the local volunteers I do have, including Bryan Kuhn who has been very helpful for a long time.”

Those 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.