CANMORE – Canmore’s popular Monday night free dinner service for locals has officially suspended operations amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
While Food and Friends, which runs out of St. Michael's Anglican Church on Seventh Street, had moved to takeout only, its volunteer operators decided it would be safest to close the doors completely as a precaution against COVID-19 until it's deemed safe to reopen.
“We’re just suspending it; we’ve very much respectful of who most of our volunteer crew is,” said Carol Picard, a volunteer with Food and Friends.
“We’re seniors, we’re near seniors, we’re compromised. Some of the people in the kitchen are diabetic. We have a core kitchen team and we have a type one diabetic and we have two people with respiratory issues, and the rest of the crew is immune compromised as cancer survivors or seniors.”
Picard announced the closure on her personal Facebook page Wednesday (March 18) in an emotional note to the community.
“This has been a bit of a tough post for me to write, amid more than a few tears, because Food and Friends is so near and dear to my heart. For all of the volunteer and near-volunteer work I do in our community, this one is that last one I would want to give up," Picard wrote.
"That said, we have made the incredibly difficult decision to suspend indefinitely, until the worst of this is over.
"As one off my fellow diehards and I were discussing, this really exposes some structural weaknesses in our society, both in our local community and in the overall economic system in which we live, when feeding those who need it rests upon volunteers and especially 'olderly' volunteers.
“I can’t give you any food this week, but I can leave you some food for thought.”
Picard said it was a tough decision to make especially considering recent mass layoffs in the Bow Valley that could make food security worse for valley residents.
“Most of who we are serving are the young staffers in the service industry, so we all felt rather uncomfortable with even keeping a great distance,” she said.
“Some of us who actually are in a decision making position said, 'you know what it didn’t feel right' and yet, we’re also cognizant of what’s going on in the work force in the last little while and how much of a gap we’ve been able to fill in our valley, but we look after ourselves, or else nothing goes forward.”
The last week in the valley has been overloaded with layoffs in the hospitality industry. Ski hills in the area - Sunshine Village Resort, Norquay, Lake Louise and Nakiska - all closed between Monday and Tuesday, with staff laid off at all facilities. On Thursday (March 19), the Banff Centre temporarily laid off nearly 400 employees. Multiple hotels, cafés and restaurants have also had to lay off staff.
Picard said once it's all clear, Food and Friends will reopen, however the valley looks at that time.
“Food and Friends, we will reopen once the danger zone has passed – whether there’s any workforce left in the valley to need our services is the big question,” said Picard.