Food banks adjusting during first COVID-19 Christmas season

Food banks adjusting during first COVID-19 Christmas season

Stratford House of Blessing executive director Theresa McMurray shows some of the toys local families will have access to during the Christmas season. (Cory Smith/The Beacon Herald)

It’s been nearly nine months since COVID-19 changed the way food banks operate, but this is the first Christmas for them in a pandemic world.

“It’s definitely challenging,” Salvation Army Capt. Mike Mailman said. “There’s a lot of things we need to change and adapt in order to help people.”

The organization closed its Lightbourne Avenue office in Stratford to the public in the spring but has since changed to allow one person inside at a time, though in-person appointments are on hold until January. Mailmain said more than 140 households comprising 380 people — approximately 175 of them children — applied for assistance this Christmas and will receive food and/or toys.

Applications for assistance are closed, but Mailmain added the Salvation Army would do its best to help a family in need. There have been fewer of those families this Christmas, which Mailman speculated is the result of government financial aid and COVID safety measures that have kept many indoors.

There’s also the stubborn stigma attached to those asking for help.

“We try so hard to reduce that,” Mailman said. “If you’re in need, you’re in need. There’s no reason to suffer needlessly when there’s resources available.”

The Salvation Army’s Christmas kettle campaign has also been scaled back because of COVID-19 and fewer volunteers available, though this year Interac donations can be made at some locations.

Financial contributions can also be made by cheque and sent to 230 Lightbourne Ave, Stratford, Ont., N4Z 1J6. Indicate which Salvation Army location the money is intended, since Stratford also runs the branches in St. Marys and Mitchell.

Food, especially KD, canned pastas, fruits and vegetables — in particular chick peas and various beans — can be dropped off at the office after calling ahead.

The Salvation Army just received a large food donation from the Stratford Police Service that was collected throughout Perth County.

“It was a wonderful, overwhelming response,” Mailman said. “It was awesome. The giving spirit of our community is amazing.”

Stratford House of Blessing executive director Theresa McMurray said it’s a “very busy” time for the non-profit organization. There are about 455 families receiving a $50 gift card for Christmas dinner.

“It’s very busy and hard to (compare to past years) at this point because we’re in the beginning stages,” she said.

The House of Blessing also shifted its strategy to pick-ups and deliveries in the spring. Appointments have placed a greater emphasis on administration and organization.

“We don’t have as many people inside, and before it was a hub of activity,” McMurray said. “This year is a hub of activity, but in a different way.”

Last year, the House of Blessing provided 743 children with toys. There are two rooms at the Erie Street office filled with toys, puzzles, crafts, clothes and other children’s amenities. Safety protocols are in place for those picking up gifts, which can be done by booking an appointment at Anyone requiring further assistance can also call 519-273-3433 and speak with Molly.

“It’s made everything impersonal for a lot of people, and many people love to come in and chat, and they can’t do that anymore,” McMurray said. “It’s different this year for everybody.”

Those who want to drop off a gift or food are asked to call 519-273-3433 or email the House of Blessing through its website. Financial donations can be made through

“We’re very thankful we were able to pivot everything we were doing and make sure people are getting what they need,” McMurray said. “With COVID, it has put us on a different way of doing things, and we’re definitely working toward making this work smoothly.”

Published at Mon, 07 Dec 2020 22:06:30 +0000

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Written by Riel Roussopoulos


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