Helping Hand Food Bank is saying thank you to the community for supporting its October-December Food Drive.
"Unbelievable," said Joan Clarkson, coordinator at the Tillsonburg Helping Hand Food Bank, taking a tour of their facility on Broadway Tuesday morning. "We've had over 53,000 pounds of food brought in between Oct. 1st and Jan. 1st – 53,316 pounds.
"Not counting today," she added with a smile.
"You know what, we're going to need it all. We really are. There's going to be more need for it than ever. And because everybody brought us so much food, we're 11,000 pounds over what we had at this time last year."
Helping Hand Food Bank has a team of about 40 volunteers, of which a group of them come out every Tuesday morning to sort food.
"It might be 42 now," Clarkson noted.
"This is how it comes in," she said, nodding toward boxes of groceries donated from Metro and Sobeys, and a room full of paper bags filled with food.
"They are amazing – this is December. This is fantastic, it really is. Both grocery stores this year said, 'Joan, what do you need?' They have a list... and I told them both, no mushroom soup, because we have so much mushroom soup. But they have been very generous, both Sobeys and Metro. They've been my saviour."
She opened one of the bags, showing a mix of crackers, pancake mix, syrup... and more.
"They still collect food for us, but this campaign they do for us right up until Christmas. And they'll do it again in the spring for Easter. These two stores – Sobeys and Metro – are phenomenal."
Nothing goes to waste. The food bank uses the paper bags throughout the year for potatoes.
She walks by a stack of potatoes, still in their original bags.
"These were a gift from Metro – 100 bags of potatoes."
She walks by boxes of apples.
"M&R Orchards, every week they give us three bushels of apples. And they do it all year, until they run out in July or August."
More potatoes are stored in another room.
"I think these are from Godelie's. They gave us about 1,000 pounds of potatoes."
Some of the food still needs to be sorted.
"This is all from the food drive in December. They (volunteers) work constantly here, and they file them by date."
"We're just so blessed by the people of Tillsonburg. That one," she said, pointing to a cart, "came from companies like Marwood, Otter Valley, and of course McLaughlin's. Everybody has been so generous – I think they realize there's a lot of hunger right now, and with the cold winter upon us, I'm finding people have humongous heating bills. A lot of rentals are electric (heating)."
Walmart also contributes boxes of household items, she said.
Clarkson is confident their current supply of food should hold them through the winter.
"It should... unless it stays really cold," she predicted. "Hopefully this will last. We're at the point now where we are giving out almost 10,000 pounds of food every month. And during the food drive, we got 53,000 pounds. So I anticipate this food, along with what we buy – milk, bread, margarine, cheese, eggs.
"The people in this town, the generosity, it just blows me away."
She walks by their new cooler, and tells how their old cooler broke. Knowing it would cost nearly $800 to fix, they were stuck. But a longtime supporter offered to give them a new cooler... and delivered it the next day. And he found someone who would fix the old cooler – free of charge.
"And now I have two beautiful coolers. People are just reaching out and giving."
She also noted the local ads that were incredibly helpful.
"They put on radio ads, six times a day for a month. I had people coming in here and saying, 'I just heard on the radio station that you need money,' and donate money."