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Food bank ready for Saturday 'blitz'

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If you've seen Tillsonburg's Helping Hand Food Bank after a food blitz, the shelves are stocked, boxes and crates are full of everything, and volunteers are busy sorting and labelling food.

It's a stark contrast to the scene on Monday, only a few days before the annual door-to-door food drive on Saturday, Oct. 4.

Shelves are not quite bare, but are sparsely stocked – well below half capacity. The sorting room is not quite empty, because they have stacks of soup cans, but empty boxes pile up.

"We have lots of soup – it's a warm meal. And tomato soup, that's a hot drink for someone who needs a drink," said Helping Hand Food Bank coordinator Joan Clarkson, who is anxiously preparing for Saturday's food drive.

So much depends on its success.

"We're really low," said Clarkson, walking through their facility. "We have a real shortage of everything. I don't think we have any canned vegetables left, or canned fruit."

She passes the fridge, opens it, and smiles. It's stocked with only a handful of hamburger packages. It's low too, verging on empty.

This past month the food bank serviced 30-plus families.

"We've been giving out, on average, close to 10,000 pounds a month this year. We've been very fortunate that farmers have been coming forward and helping us out. And the grocery stores, they help us out too."

She opens up the backroom door, where they sort food.

"Where's the food?" she asks, rhetorically. "Where's the food?"

She points to milk crates stacked up to the ceiling – roughly 200 of them.

"This is only about half the crates we hope to fill on Saturday. If it doesn't rain. It won't rain Saturday. It can't.

"These pallets," she said, nodding toward a stack, "generally, by Christmas time, should be about this height. On Saturday, you can watch it grow. That's what all these boxes are waiting for."

Tillsonburg's 'Thanksgiving Food Blitz' has been well-established, said Clarkson, for at least the past 10 years.

This year, Clarkson is hoping for items on their 'Most Wanted' list. Any non-perishable food items are welcome, she said, but the ones they want most are: canned fish, meats and stews; peanut butter; children's school snacks (nutritious); jam; canned vegetable and fruit; spaghetti sauce; juice (boxes or cans); rice; beans (canned or dried); canned tomatoes; household products and personal hygiene products.

On Saturday, Oct. 4, residents of Tillsonburg will be leaving food donations on their front steps before 10 a.m. A group of volunteers will drive/walk through town to pick them up, usually completing the town's 19 'districts' by noon.

In 2013 they doubled the average amount of food collected – nearly 9,000 pounds – in the fall food blitz.

"That's a good amount of food for this town," said Clarkson.

"Our signs made a huge impact last year – they were marvelous. The last couple of years, we've been really fortunate."

Quick Facts

- Helping Hand Food Bank serves more than 3,500 people every year, of which more than 40 per cent are children.

- In 2014, Helping Hand Food Bank distributed nearly 10,000 pounds of food every month to people in our community who are struggling to put food on the table.

- Volunteers are urgently needed. To assist call 519-688-3434 or email helping.hand.tillsonburg@gmail.com.

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