SHERBROOKE – The St. Mary’s Food Bank is launching the new year with a new storage and packing facility big enough to meet the monthly needs of the 25 families it serves, and more.
“It literally takes a village,” said food bank spokesperson Rev. Derek Elsworth of St. Mary’s Pastoral Charge (United Church of Canada) of the 14x20-foot building constructed by area residents, with about $15,000 in funding from federal and municipal governments.
The facility sits on land donated by the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s in downtown Sherbrooke and is technically owned by Sherbrooke Opportunities Society (SHOPS), which will handle food storage, packing and delivery to food bank clients. The organization will also manage the VON frozen meal program.
“We are thrilled to be a partner,” said Mallori Nickerson, executive director of SHOPS, which provides social and employment opportunities for residents with special needs. “SHOPS loves our community and we are always looking for ways to be involved.”
The food bank has been looking for a permanent home since March 2020, when Covid restrictions forced it to move from the basement of St. Mary’s Memorial Hospital and into St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Church.
“Volunteers could no longer enter the hospital,” Elsworth explained, “so a temporary space was graciously provided.”
But, he added, “After establishing partnerships with SHOPS and VON, the need for permanent, secure, accessible space became more pressing for an expanding, essential community service, while also providing sustainability and further community integration for the SHOPS program.”
Said Nickerson: “This is just another amazing opportunity to help out and give back [to the community]. It’s also an amazing learning opportunity for our participants to practice their skills and work together as a team for a common purpose.”
Elsworth said the project employed a number of local people directly, including Sandy Jack as the contractor and Danny Baird for electrical work, adding, “Sherbrooke Village carpentry will be creating an accessible packing table with storage [while] volunteers have helped put shelving units together.”
The Government of Canada’s Employment & Social Development Canada Emergency Community Support Fund (through The United Way) provided $13,000 in 2020, while a St. Mary’s municipal holiday community grant covered the remaining $2,000 in 2021.
For Elsworth, the timing couldn’t be better. “Food insecurity is a growing problem [and] we have seen an increase in the amount of people needing food bank assistance. We anticipate further need as costs of living continue to increase.”
“This is a win-win for both SHOPS and the food bank,” said Nickerson.