Every night at 7 p.m. a chorus of pots and pans clanging together echo through the city in honour of frontline workers.
These workers include nurses and doctors who work in our hospitals, and paramedics, firefighters, and police who are still out in the community, saving lives, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, there are those who are not paid for their service to the community, who need to be recognized as well. They are also saving lives as they work on the frontlines every day making sure that thousands of vulnerable residents in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows have food on the tables.
Volunteers at the Friends In Need Food Bank are serving about 110 added households, ones that have registered for food bank services in March and April alone.
That means Friends is serving 785 households, up from 675 registered households at the end of February, noted executive director Mary Robson.
On top of the growing demand, Robson has had to cut her volunteer force by about three quarters – in order to keep physical distancing guidelines maintained within the limited space, and also because a majority of her volunteers are senior citizens who are at higher risk for getting the virus and becoming really ill.
But a team of volunteers from the Hope For Freedom Society have stepped in, Robson said, helping to fill about 200 prepacked hampers that are now being handed out each day.
Two bags on average go to each client – one filled with non-perishable food, the other with perishables such as milk and eggs.
Protocols have changed for clients, as well. Physical distancing markers have been placed on the sidewalk in front of the facility in Maple Ridge, to keep people who are waiting for their food at least two metres apart. For those who have a vehicle they are now able to drive through, to pick up their food.
The demand for home deliveries has also increased substantially, said Robson, who now has a roster of more than 30 volunteer drivers waiting for her call.
“These are people putting themselves at risk. There have been a couple of people who are in quarantine who we are delivering to – not just self isolation – but actual quarantine,” she said.
School lunch programs have also seen an increase in demand across both communities. At the Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries, demand has tripled for its school lunch bag program, said fundraising coordinator Amelia Norrie.
They provide lunches to students at 14 schools across Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows. Before the Easter long weekend they were delivering about 500 lunches a week.
The school district has since told them they needed triple the amount of what they initially supplied. They’re now providing 1,400 lunches per week.
Before COVID-19, the Friends In Need Food Bank’s school meal /snack program saw food delivered to every school in the district. Now, with schools closed, the food bank and the Salvation Army are coordinating efforts.
Distribution stations have been set up at Maple Ridge Secondary and Samuel Robertson Technical.
Volunteers from the Salvation Army go there to get contact lists for the week. They prepare everything in their kitchen at the shelter, then put the food in crates and deliver it to the distribution stations on Monday mornings.
Frontline workers at the Salvation Army have undergone many changes to protocol, said Norrie, like hand washing, social distancing, and safety protocols. And their community meal program is accessible now only by take-out. Residents and guests at the shelter are still getting meals every day.
Demand for community and family services is also “insane,” said Norrie.
Robson predicts that a long recovery period is going to be needed, even after COVID-19 is deemed under control in the province. Right now her non-perishable inventory is at an all-time low. And, because all of the spring and Easter food drives were cancelled, she has had to rely on a one-time provincial grant of $30,000 to purchase supplies. She is also having trouble sourcing suppliers for milk, eggs, and other dairy products, but said supply chains are opening up again.
“It is very heartwarming to know that we are able to help and keep our services going throughout this time,” Robson said.
However, it is her volunteers she is most proud of.
“I’m just so proud and pleased with them and what they are doing.” Marv Jones Honda is accepting and matching all donations to Friends In Need Food Bank dropped off at the dealership