One afternoon in 2010, a couple arrived on the doorsteps of the parish of St. Aidan and St. Bartholomew (St. Bart’s) asking for food. When they were directed to another community social service agency, they said they had “already been there.” The couple told the St. Bart’s parishioners that they had been turned away because they did not meet the Food Bank criteria. After a quick trip to buy groceries for them, parish discussions ensued about how the problem of food insufficiency in the community could be addressed. Within the year, the St. Bart’s “no barrier” Food Bank was in operation.
Ten years later, St. Bart’s, continues to operate this valuable food bank ministry in the town of Gibsons on the Sunshine Coast. For the parishioners of St. Barts, this ministry represents “faith in action.” For the Town of Gibsons, it is seen as an invaluable resource for the homeless, the marginalized and the working poor. The Food Bank regularly serves families with children; however the majority of clients are single men and women— most over the age of 55 years— a significant statement regarding societal need.
While there is no scientific evidence that COVID-19 has been transmitted through food, many changes have been made in the operations of the St. Bart’ s Food Bank in order to prevent “human to human” transmission. Following the COVID-19 guidelines established by the BC Centre for Disease Control and the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, operational changes have included: holding the Food Bank out of doors, using fewer volunteers (under the age of 65), frequent hand and environmental sanitizing, wearing cotton face masks (made by a local quilting group), extension of operating days/hours, two metre social distancing with clients, and more. Home delivery is available to those unable to leave their homes due to illness or self-isolation, and free personal hand sanitizers are given to all clients who attend in person.
The Sunshine Coast, like other rural areas of British Columbia, has been impacted by rising food costs and supply chain shortages. A positive outcome of the pandemic has been the formation of a new, collaborative partnership between the four food banks on the Sunshine Coast: the Salvation Army (Gibsons), Community Ventures (Sechelt), Pender Harbour/Egmont and St. Barts. Via our bi-weekly Zoom calls we share information, resources, inventory and pick-up/deliveries. The willingness of four different social/compassionate service organizations to assist and support one another in serving a marginalized population is truly “community in action.”
The St. Bart’s Food Bank is highly valued and respected in Gibsons. Significant increases in both donations and volunteers have allowed the recent expansion in operations. The Rotary Club of Gibsons has been especially generous, as have many local businesses and individual donors from the Gibsons area. A local Coastal Community Food Bank campaign and emergency federal funding from Food Banks BC have supported an increase in the amount produce and household items now available to clients.
Recently, the St. Bart’s food bank served the largest number of clients ever on a single day by providing 100 food hampers to feed almost 200 people. One young woman arrived for her first visit to a Food Bank with tears streaming down her face. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was clear:
“I just lost my job yesterday”.
“I don’t know how I am going to live until my next cheque arrives.”
“Are you allowed to help me?”
“I’m now living on the street...”.
“I have nothing for my 4 year old’s birthday - do you have any toys?”
“Am I ever glad that you are open!”
St. Bart’s Food Bank is an active demonstration of the parish’s motto “Connecting with our Community.” As the volunteers, donors and supporters of St. Bart’s Food Bank continue to offer healthy food, along with care and compassion, to those in need, we are reminded that.
“The church, is the Church only when it exists for others... not dominating, but helping and serving.” - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Photos by John Roper