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WCS, service clubs make changes to support pandemic relief efforts

It takes a village not only to raise a child, but to ensure everyone in the community gets fed. That’s especially true when a pandemic creates more need and makes collecting and distributing donations more difficult.

The circumstances saw numerous groups and individuals coordinate food-drive efforts over the holidays, collecting goods and funds for Woolwich Community Services, with the organization still busy ensuring nobody falls through the cracks.

Traditional food drives on hold in the run-up to Christmas, a group of local organizations came up with alternatives that raised some $36,000 for WCS. The effort involved the Kiwanis Club of Elmira, Floradale Friends of Dog Guides, Glenrose Masons, Elmira and St. Jacobs Lions , and the Elmira and St. Jacobs Optimist clubs. Local Scouts also took part, as did several churches in the area. 

John Kendall of the Elmira Kiwanis Club said the cooperative effort started back when the pandemic measures first came into effect back in March.

“We initially met with Woolwich Community Services about eight months ago, and, because of the pandemic, determined that a traditional food drive like Kiwanis has been running for 20 years wasn’t going to work, not only from the collecting point of view, but the storing for WCS – it wasn’t going to be COVID friendly,” said Kendall.

The seven groups went out manning booths this year rather than going door-to-door collecting non-perishable food items. Before a big event on November 20-21, participating groups put in their fair share of volunteer work.

“They were instrumental in getting out door-hangers that promoted the event. And part of the promoting of the event was to remind people that we weren’t having a food drive – after doing it for so many years, people sort of automatically on the second last Saturday of November put food on the front porch. And we didn’t want that to happen,” said Kendall of the changes this year.

In addition to the in-person donation option, there was also a QR code on the door hangers to encourage residents to donate online rather than flooding local booths in the wake of a pandemic.

Kelly Christie, executive director at WCS, said she and her team were very impressed by the results of this year’s drive. The $36,000 helped in giving out 181 Christmas hampers, up from 165 in 2019.

In an average year, the agency sees about 15 new families take part in the Christmas Goodwill program.

“I think it’s a matter of the impact of COVID and the need out there. And hopefully, part of it is just making people more aware of the services that we provide through different advertising and [articles] in the paper,” she said of the increase over the holidays.

“Our programs have altered during COVID. … As an essential service we do our food programs, so we have seen a decrease in the number of our monthly hampers going out. But that’s not necessarily alarming at all because we offer more,” she said, noting that the new self-help food shelf and Fresh Food Fridays have become very popular.  

Kendall stresses that the donations were a combined effort that many organizations are keen to try again.

“I think the way it went with the clubs was really good. And I think certainly the feedback we got from the service clubs, they want to be involved again.”

Currently, WCS is looking for donations of canned fruit and personal hygiene products such as shampoos and deodorants.

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