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Community’s help needed to help Storehouse Foodbank make Christmas merry for all ages in need

Linda Downey, founder of the Wellington Storehouse Foodbank, answers questions during an open house last week for the organization’s 10th anniversary.

Story and photos by Sharon Harrison
There’s fewer people using the services of Wellington’s Storehouse Foodbank overall this year – but that’s not actually good news for volunteers now working furiously to help those in need have a happy Christmas.

There are more than 300 people – including 103 children and three babies on the roster this year – fewer than the 460 individuals assisted in 2016 and fewer still, than the 577 on the books in 2015.

On the surface, the decline appears to be good news, but Storehouse founder Linda Downey says the decline reflects the number of families who have moved away due to the lack of affordable accommodations in the area.

Some, despite working two or three jobs, still had to move elsewhere “so the businesses are also suffering because there’s no staff.”

The Storehouse Foodbank uses donated space in the basement rooms of Wellington’s Pentecostal Church on Niles Street. A registered charity, it is a member of the Quinte Regional Food Share Shelter and the Ontario Association of Foodbanks and now serves residents in Wellington, Hillier, Consecon, Rosehall, Carrying Place, Ameliasburgh, Rednersville and Bloomfield.

There are others who need assistance at various times throughout the year and 35-40 per cent are seniors – a figure that has doubled in the last two years, not just locally, says Downey, but across the province.

The Storehouse spent $6,000 during this year’s Snowsuit Campaign to provide children coats, snowsuits, boots, hats and mittens.

“If we have extra funds we also purchase winter clothing for some seniors,” she noted.

Shopping for Angels chosen from trees in Wellington must be delivered by Dec. 15.

This week the Christmas Angels Campaign kicked off with a drive to ensure children in need receive a Christmas gift, warm pyjamas, socks, slippers, underwear, crayons and colouring books.

“We also give out artificial Christmas trees, wrapping bags and ornaments to the families in need.”

This year, Angel trees are located at the Royal Canadian Legion at Wellington Branch 160 and Consecon Branch 509 and at Wellington United Church and Consecon United Church. Each angel contains the child’s sex and age with an idea of what the child would like for Christmas. People are encouraged to pick an angel from a tree, but the present must be purchased and returned to the location of registration by Dec. 15.

The Storehouse also provides Holiday Hampers.

“Every Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas each client receives a hamper which includes everything for a holiday meal.” Anyone wishing to contribute a food item (see list below) to the Christmas hampers is asked to bring the items to The Storehouse by Dec. 19.”

Donations so far were viewed by more than 170 people who toured the Foodbank at an open house celebration last week in honour of its 10th year in operation.

Rooms crammed with shelving units packed with non-perishable food items, toiletries and Christmas toys and books along with five freezers and two refrigerators demonstrated a good insight into The Storehouse’s operations.

“The Storehouse Foodbank believes that everyone has the right to food security and an acceptable standard of living,” said Downey. It assists everyone in need – from singles, to families and seniors.

“All clients are treated with compassion, dignity and absolute respect for privacy,” said Downey, who volunteers about 50 hours a week and more during the busy holiday seasons.

“We strive to ensure that our work has a positive impact by involving individuals, companies, schools and community groups together to end hunger and poverty in our community,” she said. “If you see a neighbour coming into the foodbank, please don’t go around talking about it because anything can happen and you could be at a foodbank, so think of your neighbour and try to help out and not to gossip.”

The Wellington & District Storehouse Foodbank first opened its doors on Nov. 1, 2007. Founders Linda and her husband Robert Downey saw the need after hearing many stories of struggling families within the community and of people going without even the basic necessities.

“I wanted to bring awareness to my own community and surrounding communities that something needed to change.”

Though the Picton United Church County Food Bank was also in operation, Downey discovered many couldn’t get to Picton because some didn’t drive, or couldn’t afford the gas, and in the case of seniors, some were too sick or frail to travel to Picton. Services at Wellington also help relieve the strain of the busy Picton location of carrying the entire need for the County.

The Storehouse Foodbank began with about 36 clients in 2007, a figure that rose to about 100 in its first year as word spread.

“They didn’t have the awareness because when you don’t have any funds to start with, you start with what’s donated. And then I had to get some funds, fundraise and start advertising and introduce all that stuff to people to explain there’s another Foodbank,” she said.

A squadron of individuals, families, local businesses, national corporations, community groups and service clubs now contribute to The Storehouse Foodbank on an ongoing basis. In addition, they also work with many farmers throughout the County who supply seasonal produce.

Downey recently got involved with the Fresh for All campaign.

“I have over 40 farmers and gardeners growing one row of something different for me now. We also have the community gardens, plus I belong to Food to Share so we glean off all the farmers’ fields.”

The Storehouse makes use of an offsite building which houses tons of potatoes, carrots and onions that will keep them supplied during the winter. All baked goods are donated locally plus The Storehouse works with the Cattlemen’s Association as well as the chicken and dairy farmers.

Run entirely by volunteers, The Storehouse Foodbank has grown to offer many resources including cooking classes, assistance in exploring healthy food options and also teaches canning. In addition to food items, they also accept clothing and household items including linens, dishes and furniture.

We provide complete service to our clients – all of life’s basic needs: food, clothing, furniture, appliances, and household items” and extra services at various times throughout the year.

The Storehouse’s annual Back-to-School Campaign provides backpacks, clothing and school supplies to children. The thing that we struggle with the most sometimes is granola bars. We can’t get them donated.”

“Each week, we give out children’s books that are supplied to us by County Kids Read and by donations from other people. The families love the books and have told me how they have improved their children’s reading skills and even their own,” Downey said.

The Storehouse’s website is updated with a current list of needs. Immediate requirements include school lunch supplies, plastic lunch bags and toiletries along with bed linens and blankets which they cannot keep in stock. And, of course, granola bars.

For more information on The Wellington & District Storehouse Foodbank, to donate, volunteer or for a tour, visit wellingtonfoodbank.org or call Linda Downey at 613-399-1450.

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