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Dominion strike turns into unexpected windfall for Carbonear food banks

By Chris Lewis | Sept. 3, 2020

There was plenty of food to go around in Carbonear this past week.

The Salvation Army Food Bank in Carbonear is used to getting food donations from local grocery supermarkets, but this past week they saw a donation from Dominion so large that they had to take special measures to make use of it.

Winnifred Pilgrim volunteers with the Food Bank and said that donations are what keeps a food bank going, especially during times like these when people are still facing financial struggles thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. This particular donation, however, was a little different in that it consisted mostly of perishable food items that would need to be redistributed within a few days, else they rot away and become of no use to anyone.

Pilgrim explained that she understood the donation consisted of products originally meant to stock the shelves of the local Dominion – a grocery store chain whose employees are currently on strike. She says that workers stopped a truck from taking the food from the store to be shipped to the mainland, and turned the food over to the food bank.

That donation was so big that not only did it take several cars and pickup trucks to transport from the grocery store, but it had to be split up between the Salvation Army Food Bank, and the St. Vincent De Paul Food Bank – the other major food bank service in Carbonear.

“I’m thinking it was at least a couple thousand dollars worth of food – especially when you consider how expensive groceries can be these days,” Pilgrim said of the sheer amount of food they had been presented with, describing several trips back and forth in pickup trucks and cars to get the food to its new destination. “We’re talking tomatoes, lemons, limes, oranges, mandarins, apples on top of apples on top of apples. Turnips, cabbage, green beans, peppers, seedless grapes … So much food. Some of it, like bread, we were able to store in some of our freezers. But then the perishable food items, they had to be sent out as soon as possible – we couldn’t distribute all of that through our regular food bank days.”

So, it took some brainstorming to come up with a suitable solution; a way to get all this food out into the hands of the public. The food bank had amassed the food on Thursday, Aug. 27. The next day, on Friday, they had set up a system where people – one person per family – could drop by and take what they needed.

Pilgrim explained that this was not an event geared toward their pre-established clientele, and that it was open to anyone and everyone who found themselves in need of some extra food.

With tables set up outside the Salvation Army citadel on Water Street, a small group of volunteers got to work Friday morning handing out food to those who showed up.

In total, the food bank was able to provide fresh food to 122 families – 22 more than they had anticipated, even after storing some of the donated food, and sharing part of the donation with St. Vincent de Paul.

With the COVID-19 pandemic still in full swing, Pilgrim explained that the morning saw plenty of rules to ensure it was a smooth, socially distanced event.

“We had three ladies volunteering inside, so we only allowed three clients in at a time. The clients never touched the food at all, they just held onto their bag and asked for what they needed. The volunteers would just put the food in their bag,” Pilgrim explained, noting as well that they had to take extra care to make sure the parking lot did not become a hazard in and of itself as more and more people gathered there. “Some people left with one bag, some people left with two. It was up to the client to tell us what it is they needed, how much, and things like that. No one left with the same things in their bags, so some people ended up with more than others. Not many people wanted to take any squash, for example. That was fine, they just didn’t take it.”

Even after giving out hundreds of bags of fresh food, including over 100 cartons of milk, the Salvation Army Food Bank still has plenty to give out, including dozens of bags of carrots that Pilgrim said will more than likely become another item to add to the list of food shared between them and St. Vincent de Paul.

To receive a donation of this size is not exactly commonplace for the food bank, however Pilgrim noted that grocery stores in the region have always been kind to the local food banks. This donation was different in that it came from a tiring and uncertain chapter in the jobs of Dominion employees, and she was grateful to see something positive come from their hardships.

“I’m quite aware that this big donation came because of the strike. If this wasn’t going on, I’m sure we would not see such a big donation, but we’re grateful for any donations at any time,” she said.

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