Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Mulgrave food pantry receives unexpected $150,000 from province

Ten times normal budget contribution will enhance services in 2024

  • April 24 2024
  • By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter    

MULGRAVE — Shaunna Scott of the Mulgrave and Area Medical Centre’s (MAMC) food pantry is still fathoming the good news. With a $150,000 grant this month from the provincial government, her operating budget has ballooned by ten-fold, literally overnight.

“We’re astonished,” says the chair of MAMC, a small but mighty good works agency whose volunteer-run food pantry has provided an essential service for a growing number of people in her community, and neighbouring ones in Guysborough County, over the past four years.

“We’ve been running the pantry on private donations and government support of between $10,000 and $20,000 a year,” she says. “We’ve been ecstatic when we’ve received a $1,200 or $5,000 grant from the province ... But this?”

Not that she’s complaining about the sudden cash horn of plenty which, she says, will go a long way and in directions she could not have predicted. Still, she says: “When you acknowledge why you are receiving this level of support and the need that’s out there, there’s also a sense of sadness that comes along with it.”

The need is, indeed, urgent, demonstrable and widespread, says the provincial government.

The MAMC was one of 122 organizations across Nova Scotia to receive a combined $10 million in one-time assistance from the Department of Communities, Culture, Tourism and Heritage (CCTH) on Apr. 12 – for everything from distributing locally produced food, to running hamper and nutrition programs.

MODG (Chedabucto Lifestyle Complex) got $25,000 to provide healthy snacks before and after school for children, who will also be sent home with nutritious treats for evenings and weekends. Other grant recipients included: Farmers’ Markets of N.S. Cooperative Ltd. ($250,000); Le Club Kinsmen de Chéticamp ($200,000); and Paqtnkek Education Centre/Paqtnkek Health Centre ($125,000).

“We know times are challenging, and it’s important Nova Scotians have access to good nutrition and healthy eating choices,” said CCHT Minister Allan MacMaster in the announcement. “By supporting local community initiatives, we are helping meet the immediate needs of Nova Scotians and making a difference for the future.”

That includes food security and literacy projects “directly through two funding programs and through support of other partners and organizations, such as the public libraries,” CCTH spokesperson Susan Mader Zinck elaborated in an email to The Journal last week. “[These are] food pantry and hamper programs, improved food access for vulnerable Nova Scotians, teaching meal planning, nutrition and budgeting skills, and supporting community gardens. Public libraries support food literacy through initiatives like cooking classes, community gardens and pantries.”

For Scott, Mulgrave’s food pantry was an idea born of sheer necessity. Established in 1984 as a registered charity, MAMC underwent a public engagement process in 2018 to determine the needs of the community.

“In 2020, we were doing projects in partnership with the province to help with COVID,” she says. “So, we did a food delivery program to seniors and those vulnerable throughout Guysborough County. We delivered over 10,000 frozen meals over an eight-month period. It was during this time that we we felt that a food pantry might be beneficial to serve the immediate community needs.”

Scott differentiates “pantry” from food bank. “When we started, we weren’t really sure what the difference was, but one of them is that we are anonymous (a food bank under the auspices of Feed Nova Scotia requires a potential recipient to fill out a “needs” form, though it ensures that any personal information it collects is otherwise protected). We’re open 24/7 and stocked regularly, but we may not have the same type of larger-scale capacity as a food bank. We just wanted to have something a bit smaller, a bit more localized.”

She says the pantry tries to offer fresh food, including milk, cream and produce, as well as many of the non-perishable items available at food banks. For all of this, “We have had a lot of individual support and a lot of corporate support. That includes various businesses throughout Mulgrave who have been very supportive and generous by donating cash and food supplies.”

The provincial money will greatly enhance the pantry’s ability to secure supplies of food, and cover the cost of overhead.

“Part of our work plan is to reach out and to purchase some of those frozen prepackaged meals, and to see what the demand is for those,” she says. “One of the things that we did see when we did the food delivery program across Guysborough County is that some seniors and those vulnerable lacked refrigerators. Some of them lacked stoves. So, when we think of food security, we automatically assume everybody has a basic kitchen that’s fully equipped and operational. That’s not the case.”

Ultimately, she says, even this latest grant – as a large as it is – can only go so far.

“The money needs to be spent by December 31. So it’s a very short window ... We are happy and excited and it is wonderful. But there is a bigger need out there that needs to be addressed and whose role is that? Why is food so expensive? Why are people having such a hard job trying to make ends meet? Inflation? Low wages? What else needs to be done?”