With recent funding, the Brandon Friendship Centre is expanding its food security efforts for urban Indigenous people in need.
In late April, thanks to a Manitoba Metis Federation contribution, the centre began a program for urban Indigenous elders — off-reserve First Nations, non-status, Métis and Inuit — who were food insecure by providing them with food hampers. That program is now expanding to include both Indigenous people under 55 and Indigenous families.
"The outreach we want to do right now is to open that door just a bit larger than just what we had going with our Indigenous seniors," centre vice-president Jason Gobeil said.
That program is ongoing, and Gobeil urges any Indigenous person who needs help with food to call the centre, particularly those with families to feed. He said the price of food has increased and the centre wants to make sure parents are able to feed their children.
‘When the first rollout of funding came we were looking at what can we do right now. One of the things we’re looking at with the funds we have received is not just planning for the next month, but really positioning ourselves for the next three to six months," Gobeil said.
"Those dollars go fast if they’re not spent correctly, which is why we’re really trying to project longer term."
Donors and sponsors, both local and national, have contributed a total of $120,000 since March. These contributors include the National Association of Friendship Centres, United Way, Brandon Area Community Foundation, Telus and Community Food Centres Canada.
Gobeil said the global pandemic has reminded the organization of their underlying purposes.
"We’re not trying to duplicate a service, but we’re trying to be supportive of our entire community in terms of how others can fill in the gaps in terms of service needs," he said. "We can truly collaborate on the needs for servicing Indigenous peoples during these pandemic times."
Like many service providers and businesses, the centre has had to get creative with its programming in order to keep up with COVID-19 realities.
"It’s really changed the way that we work on a daily basis. But we have a heart and we have such a strong spirit coming out of that building that shows much love and compassion for this community. We’re just trying to find different ways of being able to do that, especially for Indigenous families that are trying to thrive," Gobeil said.
Mental health is also a focus, because anxiety is high. Physical distancing has created "weird predicaments" people are not accustomed to, especially with the one-on-one work that normally took place at the centre.
The centre’s board and staff are watching the phases of recovery, such as the Phase 3 draft for restoring services announced Thursday.
"We’re definitely looking at how we continue to change and evolve the way that we can deliver programming in a very safe way that allows for physical distancing," Gobeil said.
But it’s a challenge because quite often learning in Indigenous communities is intimate, in circles and in person. Much of that has become virtual.
"How do we continue to evolve and take on the challenges of technology, understanding that’s the new normal and it’s probably not going to change in the next five to six months?" Gobeil asked. "But, we’ve had to adapt and move forward."
With the $120,000, the centre is also financing its ongoing services, which are numerous, acquiring proper materials for COVID-19 sanitation and a part-time employee for pandemic relief services.
The best way to register for the food program is by reaching Liz Cook at 204-727-1407 or sending an email email@example.com
» Michele LeTourneau covers Indigenous matters for The Brandon Sun under the Local Journalism Initiative, a federally funded program that supports the creation of original civic journalism.
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