Halifax’s Brunswick Street Mission sees number of daily meals needed double in only 2 weeks

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As thousands of Maritimes self-isolate, it can be easy to live inside a bubble of protection and forget the others in our community who may be going without.  Organizations focused on helping people struggling with poverty and homelessness have been placed under exceptional circumstances during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Brunswick Street Mission and its volunteers started to worry.

“When we started looking at this (Covid-19) at the beginning of March, it was reactionary to what was happening,” says Director, Fundraising and Communications, Carmen Boyko. “How are we going to step up? As we saw volunteers leaving us, knowing that shelters really need volunteers, what was going to happen?”

Like many charitable organizations, Brunswick Street Mission relies heavily on their volunteers but when the province declared a state of emergency, many decided to stay home and self-isolate. However, Brunswick Street Mission still had mouths to feed: its kitchen at 2107 Brunswick Street in Halifax went from serving 165 meals a day mid-March to serving over 200 meals a day to local shelters just a week later and that number has only been growing.  By the end of March, over 350 meals were being prepared and delivered to seven different shelter locations throughout the HRM.

Brunswick Street Mission Executive Director, Sandra Nicholas says this jump is putting a strain on their budget. “The daily cost of this program is approximately $2,600 and even with our partner support, it’s not enough. We are spending additional funds to purchase food and supplies on a weekly basis.”

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“We’ve had to put out a call for new volunteers to help out at in the kitchen and we’ve had an incredible number of people who stepped up and offer to help to the point where we now have a waiting list,” Boyko says.  Volunteering is able to continue at Brunswick Street Mission’s location because their kitchen is separate from the shelters, reducing the level of transmission risk.

Nicholas praises their new and existing volunteers, “We could not do this work without the incredible people who have stepped up and offered to volunteer. We’ve been able to create shifts for volunteers and they are helping us prepare and deliver over 350 meals a day.”

Although their challenges change from day to day, the focus for Brunswick Street Mission is to combat food insecurity for the most vulnerable people of the HRM. Their need for volunteers solved, they move to putting food in cupboards, serve hot meals to those in shelters and help as many people as they can who have been laid off or haven’t received EI yet.

Boyko credits new pop-up shelters as a way to help stop any potential transmission of Covid-19 in the city’s shelters. “Some of Metro Turning Point’s gentlemen have moved to a pop-up at Citadel High School,” Boyko says. “Metro Turning Point holds up to 55 men at any one time. In a situation like this, with community transmission, think about how quickly it could spread to 55 and beyond.” She says the province and Shelter Nova Scotia, who operates six shelters in the HRM, put a plan in place to create pop-ups, or secondary shelters, that provide safe housing and safe social distancing protocols during the pandemic.  Brunswick Street Mission offered to provide the meals for these pop-up shelters and to all other shelters in operation during these unprecedented times.

As the number of meals made and delivered by Brunswick Street Mission climb, the stress on their resources mounts. Nicholas hopes everyone self-isolating, working from home and lucky enough to not have to rely on food banks consider the following, “Take the money you might have otherwise have spent on lunch or coffee or gas and consider donating it to a charity to help purchase the food we need to cook 350 meals daily.”

Boyko adds, “If you’re charity of choice is one that deals with a vulnerable population, Brunswick Street Mission is doing something pretty important right now and will continue for as long as we can.”

To donate to Brunswick Street Mission, visit www.brunswickstreetmission.org.

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