PORT HAWKESBURY: A quarter-century after opening its doors, the Port Hawkesbury Food Bank continues to see steady traffic and support from the community, resulting in a bittersweet anniversary for those who have stayed with the operation since its early days.
Annabel Butts and Mary Johnston, two members of the food bank’s board of directors, recalled the difficult economic climate facing Strait area residents in the early ‘90s, leading a small group of community volunteers to scout other food banks in the province and band together to set up shop at 403 Granville Street.
“In the fall of 1991, things were looking pretty tough,” Butts reflected.
Originally designed without a specific coverage area in mind, the Port Hawkesbury Food Bank wound up receiving inquiries from communities as diverse as Whycocomagh and Barra Head, eventually settling on a more defined clientele that includes Port Hawkesbury, Port Hastings, Mulgrave, Troy, Creignish, Orangedale, Blues Mills, Marble Mountain, West Bay, and Dundee.
Following an expansion that took place within the original food bank location to respect the privacy of its clients, a larger venue was sought and finally found in early 2000 at another Granville Street building that formerly housed the Rock-a-Bye Ross Boxing Club and Prometheus Place Youth Centre. The Port Hawkesbury Food Bank has remained at 514 Granville Street ever since, seeing its original weekly average of 10 food orders inching up to 40 in the present day.
“We had to apply to the town to be able to use [the new location], and then they renovated it,” said Johnston.
Today, the facility is open from 8:30-11 a.m. on Monday mornings for donations and food delivery, with clients able to access food, and occasionally, additional necessities such as school supplies between 10:30 a.m. and 3:45 p.m. on Tuesdays. Butts, Johnston and longtime food bank chair Larry Evans are among nine members on the organization’s volunteer board of directors, which frequently finds itself spending upwards of 40-to-50 weekly hours in the building.
“When we get a new volunteer, the same statement is always made – ‘I didn’t realize that there was so much work and so much to do in the food bank,’” Johnston pointed out.
While Feed Nova Scotia regularly provides supplies and operational guidelines to the Port Hawkesbury Food Bank, the service still requires and appreciates assistance it has received from schools, churches, community organizations and individuals – including former food bank clients.
“Some people will come in once a month and give us a cheque,” Butts pointed out, adding that the previous Christmas season saw a record high in early-winter food bank donations.
“We have a woman who donates – she has to be 90, and her writing is so shaky, and she sends a cheque every month.”
And while both women described their 25 years with the Port Hawkesbury Food Bank as a positive experience, Butts wistfully noted that the operation has not achieved its ultimate desire – to be completely unnecessary.
“When we opened… we were asked, ‘What is your goal?’ And we said, ‘Our goal is to close,’” Butts recalled.
“We haven’t reached our goal yet.”