« There are always people » at the food bank of Niwasa Kendaaswin Teg

For Nick Tompa, his favorite thing about working at Niwasa Kendaaswin Teg is the people.

« Just seeing their faces, especially the kids and how happy they are even if I just give them a toy or a toothbrush [with] a Spider-Man on it. »

Tompa is organizing some shelves between two sentences, a donation from a local church had just arrived.

He works at the Niwasa Food Bank, a member of the Hamilton Food Share network.

Nick Tompa says he’s storing donations from a local church. He says he does « quite a lot » at work, but his favorite thing is connecting with the community. (Aura Carreno Rosas/CBC)

Some things he does on a daily basis cover « quite a lot. » On this busy Monday morning in December, less than a week before Christmas Day, Tompa was juggling assembling bags for people collecting food, receiving donations and organizing them.

Inside the supply room, bags full of food wait for food bank patrons to be picked up. In the lobby, even more bags are set up on a white table.

« You get to relate to people. You get to know them for a while and understand what language they speak, » Tompa said.

« I speak a few languages ​​on my own, so it’s easier to interact with people and have that understanding. »

A man stores a variety of foods in a plastic bag.
Lavallee says Niwasa is more than a workplace. It’s a « like a family ». (Aura Carreno Rosas/CBC)

« There are always people here »

His colleague, Blake Lavallee, walks in and out of the supply room, taking turns with Tompa juggling the same tasks.

He comes out every few minutes to make sure there is no one outside waiting.

When someone arrives, Blake treats them like a friend. Interactions are short and sweet and usually end with a “take care” or “have a nice day” as people accessing the food bank walk, bike or drive away.

Lavallee has been working with the Niwasa Food Bank since 2019, shortly after they took office.

« It’s always busy [here]. But it feels good to help people get back into the community, » he said.

A corkboard that reads "Community Resources" at the top and has many panphets and pinned events on it.
Niwasa is a multi-service Aboriginal organization that not only offers a food bank, but also child care, youth programs and more. (Aura Carreno Rosas/CBC)

Niwasa is a multi-service Aboriginal organization that « provides high quality programs and services across the life cycle to the Aboriginal population of Hamilton, Brantford and surrounding areas. »

Donations from the churches arrived in the morning, but also a special delivery from the neighboring farm. Huge sprouts are the first to catch the eye.

The food bank receives vegetables weekly from McQuesten Urban Farm, which Niwasa took over earlier this year.

A field of farmland and a shipping container with the words "McQuesten Urban Farm" written on.
McQuesten Urban Farm was taken over from the City of Hamilton by Niwasa earlier this year. (Aura Carreno Rosas/CBC)

« [Niwasa] is a good community,” Lavallee said, “everyone is like family here, even outside of the food bank.

They offer child care, youth programs and more. Niwasa also manages the McQuesten Urban Farm.

As he drives the Niwasa Kendaaswin Teg truck to Hamilton Food Share for their bi-weekly pickup, Lavallee recalls the intense weeks their organization has just been through.

He said the holiday season is the busiest for them, but also when they receive the most donations.

Two men pushing carts loaded with food in opposite directions.
Tompa, left, and Lavallee put away a freshly dropped off donation from a local church. (Aura Carreno Rosas/CBC)

Inflation is pushing more people to food banks, CEO says

Niwasa is one of 10 members of the Hamilton Food Bank network.

« That’s where a lot of our food comes from, » said Alysha Johnson, director of the food bank.

« There are items that we don’t have. So since we have the funding, we try to go and buy the items ourselves, just to make sure people get a good amount of food. »

She says the food bank serves about 400 households a month through their bi-weekly pickups on Monday mornings and Wednesday afternoons and deliveries Tuesday through Friday, another of Lavallee and Tompa’s responsibilities.

A truck with the Niwasa logo on it and a picture of fruits and vegetables.
In addition to scheduled pickups on Mondays and Wednesdays, the Niwasa Food Bank also delivers food directly to people’s homes four days a week. (Aura Carreno Rosas/CBC)

« I’m going to deliver it to people’s homes. If they’re in need, I’ll personally make sure they get their food. I’m going to knock. I’m going to call them. I’m going to call them. I’m going to make sure that I send it to them,” Tompa said.

He said he would sometimes be the only person people receiving food would interact with that week.

« We really want to make sure they’re happy and get the food they need, especially if they can’t leave the house. »

Johnson said one of Niwasa’s goals is to make sure people don’t feel judged when accessing the food bank.

Cereals, tuna, canned fruit and pasta on a table, a pair of hands tying a closed bag.
Johnson said she tries to make sure everyone feels welcome at Niwasa’s food bank, regardless of whether they’re driving around in a « brand new car…everyone is going through tough times. » (Aura Carreno Rosas/CBC)

« People are embarrassed to say they had to go to a food bank or whatever, » she said.

« There’s no kind of judgment or anything. We understand that even if you arrive in a brand new car, some people might say, ‘Well, why a food bank? I mean, everyone goes through tough times. »

Food banks have experienced unprecedented pressure this year.

Joanne Santucci, managing director of Hamilton Food Share, said the increase is affecting those who were already struggling.

« There are 38% of people who normally come once to a food bank and now come twice. This tells us that inflation is having a dramatic impact on those households who are already struggling to put food on the table. table. »

A survey by Hamilton Food Share indicates that Hamilton is the second most used food bank per capita in Ontario.

Johnson said Niwasa served 3,563 unique people from January to December 1.

« We saw a high demand for need at the start of the pandemic and that need has not diminished, it has only increased. »


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