HUNGRY IN LAMBTON: Small food banks meant to be temporary: ‘Now I think we’re here to stay’

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Angie Baresich volunteers at the Alvinston Food Bank.

The Independent presents the second week of a six-part series by Reporter Cathy Dobson and Photographer Glenn Ogilvie focused on the alarming number of rural Lambton residents who increasingly cannot afford to feed themselves and their families.  Over the last nine months, we investigated how food insecurity is impacting our community and talked to the people who regularly access more than a dozen area food banks. We also examined the challenges faced by the extraordinary volunteers and agencies providing free food to a wide cross section of adults and children.
Here are their stories.

Glenn Ogilvie Photo
Jeanine Van Damme, an eight year volunteer with the Alvinston Food Bank.

Cathy Dobson/For The Independent

Retired educator Nancy Faflak knows firsthand that there are hungry students in Lambton County regularly arriving for class without breakfast or lunch.

“And sometimes their water is cut off so they aren’t showering either,” she says.

“I saw a great need in the schools right across Lambton County, both elementary and secondary, when I was working. I know it’s still a very big issue in both urban and rural Lambton.”

That’s what motivated her eight years ago when she began volunteering at the Alvinston Food Bank, which hands out food every two weeks from the basement of the municipal office.

She relates a situation that occurred about 18 months ago at Brooke Central Public School when the breakfast program ran out of food.

“The call went out and that night an anonymous donor gave $1,000 for the breakfast program, the Alvinston Legion heard about it and gave over $1,700 and the Optimists sent a cheque for $2,000 within the week.

“That’s how our community works,” said Faflak.  “When there’s a need, we really respond.”
Executive members of the Alvinston Food Bank also made sure – and continue to make sure – that the school and local families receive groceries when it’s needed.

Glenn Ogilvie Photo Nancy Faflak and Don McGugan at the Alvinston Food Bank.

“And we also have a former mayor and his wife who quietly and anonymously deliver accordingly,” Faflak said, referring to Don and Ann McGugan who often donate when they see someone is without.

It was Don who co-founded the Alvinston Food Bank in 2014 with a number of other volunteers.
“At the time, ladies at the churches and I were helping people individually but we saw the problem was bigger than we thought,” said McGugan, who served for 20 years as a councillor, then mayor in Brooke/Alvinston.

He’s 84 years old now and no longer a politician. But McGugan and his wife continue to serve their community by giving of their time and resources, especially at the food bank.

He gets passionate when he talks about the people in Lambton County who experience food insecurity, live paycheque to paycheque, and live in fear of losing their housing.

“There are social programs available but people still fall through the cracks,” McGugan said. “I remember saying when we started that we’ll likely get out of this business.

“I now say we’ll never get out of it.”

A decade ago when the food bank opened in this small community of only 850 or so, eight to 10 families would get groceries there every two weeks.  Since the pandemic, that’s grown to as many as 22 families and individuals every two weeks.

Glenn Ogilvie Photo
Don McGugan at the Alvinston Food Bank.

“We’re seeing a very large group of working people who cannot meet their rent, their hydro bills, pay for their car and gas,” says Faflak. “By the time they’ve finished paying the bills, they have no money to feed their kids,” said Faflak. 

Some are seniors but not the majority.

“We all blame the price of groceries, but it’s really the cost of existing,” said McGugan.  “Whether your car is old or new, the price of gas is part of it.  And people make poor decisions.  Sometimes it’s their health. And job opportunities here are pretty limited.”

Besides the Alvinston Food Bank, there is a surprising number of other food banks and food cupboards operating in villages and towns across Lambton County.

Between them, McGugan and Faflak count nine smaller food banks and community cupboards operating outside of Sarnia.  In the urban centre, six larger food banks try to keep pace with demand.

“We know teenagers in particular don’t have lunches,” said Faflak.  “There’s an Educational Assistant named Kelly Knight who set up a food cupboard at LCCVI when she saw students were skipping school because they had no food and no water at home.”

When it’s necessary, the food banks support each other to ensure no one runs low on supplies, Faflak said.  “And we are very well supported by the community.”

Church groups, service clubs like the Optimists, school food drives, concerned citizens, the Lambton County Cattlemen’s Association and area farmers, chip in regularly with money, meat and dry goods.  During the growing season, the Inn of the Good Shepherd in Sarnia arrives weekly with vegetables. 
If anyone thought the food banks would eventually phase out, they were wrong, said McGugan.

“There’s always been people struggling,” he said.  “But now it’s a lot more visible.”


 
 

Alvinston Food Bank.

1 COMMENT

  1. I have not checked in here for some time since I thought it was getting boring, but the last several posts are good quality so I guess I will add you back to my everyday bloglist. You deserve it my friend 🙂

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