A visit behind the locked doors at the Hawkesbury Central Food Bank location at 419 Cartier Boulevard is an eye-opener.

Cases of food are stacked on shelves in several rooms and one large room contains two long rows of freezers, with a few refrigerators. One room is dedicated to breakfast items, like pancake mix, peanut butter, jam and cans of fruit cocktail.

A volunteer is sorting food that has arrived thanks to donations made by shoppers at local grocery stores. Every bag has to be opened.

There is the feeling that this is a well-oiled machine, staffed by about 24 volunteers, one of whom is officially paid as a part-time employee for 18 hours per week, although she donates another 23 to 24 hours per week.

Like most area food banks, the Hawkesbury Central Food Bank is getting ready to prepare more than 300 food baskets (about two boxes of food per family) for the needy this holiday season. On a monthly basis, the food bank helps about 450 people. In October, there were 482 visits, says volunteer Robert Lefebvre, who adds that families are entitled to one visit per month.

Lefebvre shows the mini ’boutiques’ located inside the 4,000-square-foot food bank premises (formerly the Hawkesbury OPP headquarters). One room offers children’s and baby clothing, another one is for women’s clothing and yet another contains men’s wear. These boutiques are available to food bank patrons who can take what they need for free.

“Right now, winter outerwear is in great need,” Lefebvre said.

The food bank operates from the rent-free location provided by the Town of Hawkesbury, but pays its own utilities (heating and electricity).

A $60,000 grant from the United Counties of Prescott and Russell made it possible to do renovations to the former OPP station to make it more suitable for the food bank; improvements included the addition of doors to ensure volunteers had a dedicated work space. Exterior doors were added to enable food bank patrons to collect food baskets in one area without walking through the building.

The food bank is open the last three weeks of each month from Tuesday to Friday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. You can call 613-636-0666 to make a donation or to find out more, or to request a Christmas basket.

About $30,000 worth of food items will be distributed as part of the Christmas campaign. In all, the food bank distributes about $200,000 worth of food to those in need every year, Lefebvre explains, adding that donations are all tallied. The value of each food item is added to the inventory–and those value estimates are always on the low side, he says.

People are extremely generous, Lefebvre continued. “But we can always use hygiene products. The personal care and hygiene products that people use are not food, of course, and they are often expensive. Our primary mandate is food, so donations of things like sanitary items, diapers and incontinence products are always very appreciated.

“We have had a lot of support and donations during COVID, but that has tapered off. And this time of year, we receive a lot of donations. But there are 12 months in the year,” Lefebvre underlined.