On any given day, the parking lot at the Grimsby Benevolent Fund is full of cars and the store full of thrifty shoppers.
While it may appear the charity is rolling in the dough, the case couldn’t be farther from the truth. Currently, the GBF is feeding more than 225 families — often more than once a month — and is spending upwards of $10,000 each month just to keep staples like Kraft dinner and canned tuna on the shelves.
“Some of our families are shopping weekly. That’s four times a month, one grocery cart each time,” said Stacy Elia, executive director. “Those 225 families quickly become more like 800 plus visits a month.”
So, instead of turning families away or watching as they try and scape by on one food bank visit a month, the GBF is shopping to fill the shelves.
“We’re spending between $10,000 and $15,000 a month on food that doesn’t last 30 days,” explained Elia, noting there are more than 30 items out of stock.
“For the first time in years we have had to buy pasta,” said Elia. “When a food bank has to buy Kraft dinner and tuna, there’s a problem.”
Elia was quick to note that community support for the GBF remains high but there are many in the community who are unaware of what the agency does.
This weekend, as part of the Doors Open Grimsby festival, residents will have the unique opportunity to go behind the scenes at the GBF and tour the food bank.
The food bank itself is set up like a grocery store. Items are grouped together much like they would be at the grocery store, giving clients control over what foods they take home. Giving clients choice, said Elia, is about dignity and respect.
“It’s hard enough to come to our door and ask for help,” said Elia. “Imagine being that person and being handed a bag of food.”
GBF also tries to ensure clients have healthy options, such as milk and produce, which they also purchase weekly. Programs such as Kid Zone and Hunger Awareness give clients extras to hold them over for the month by providing school snacks as well as a crockpot recipe with all of the ingredients. All new GBF clients are given a crockpot as part of the program.
Elia said she suspects one reason food bank support has dropped is that people are no longer able to do so, as many are facing financial strains.
“The reality is that people are trying to take care of their own families,” said Elia. “There isn’t that extra there to help out.”
But, she said, supporting the food bank doesn’t mean dropping off bags full of non-perishables. It can mean donating one 50 cent can of soup.
“Imagine if everyone in the community did that?” Elia said. “We have 20,000 plus people in our community. If every household brought in one item a month, imagine the impact that would have.”
The GBF just equipped dozens of school kids with backpacks, filled with all of the necessary supplies, and a pair of shoes and is now focussing on providing Thanksgiving dinner for its 225 client families.
Visitors to the GBF on Saturday for Doors Open are encouraged to bring along a food donation. Those who do will be entered into a draw to win a barbecue.
Residents can also drop off food donations at the food bank, 6 Elm St., or at the Grimsby Farmers’ Market Thursdays in downtown Grimsby.
“I challenge everyone in this community,” said Elia. “If everyone brings in one thing to the food bank what a difference it will make. Hunger doesn’t take a holiday. It’s 365 days a year.”
The food bank will be open for tours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Draw will take place Saturday at 4 p.m. There will also be a silent auction with proceeds supporting the purchase of food.