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The Salvation Army served 2.8 million meals at shelters and feeding programs in Canada and Bermuda between 2020 and 2021.Supplied

Initiative to address food scarcity in Kirkland Lake, Ont., just one example of the difference donations and volunteer efforts can make in the lives of others

In the small Northern Ontario community of Kirkland Lake, many families have been struggling to put food on their tables after using most of their scarce incomes to pay for a roof over their heads. It’s a problem that weighs heavily on many Canadians, with one in seven unable to provide adequate food for themselves and their families.

Robbie Donaldson, auxiliary-captain with The Salvation Army, has witnessed the devastating impact of food scarcity on the people of Kirkland Lake for more than six years.

“It’s a travesty,” Donaldson says. “In the outlying communities there’s just nothing there – no transport to get into town or convenience store to get fresh milk.”

Inspired by The Salvation Army’s values of hope, service, dignity and stewardship, Donaldson has been leading an innovative initiative in the community that offers food to those in need.

“The major demographic here is people living on social benefits and seniors. It was important that we find a way to offer food and hope while overcoming the stigma associated with the traditional food bank concept,” Donaldson says.

With funding from Agriculture Canada and the support of local volunteers, a model of a grocery store was created at The Salvation Army’s existing food bank in the town, complete with shelves for food and necessities, and a glass-door fridge and freezer supplied by Feed Ontario. “We’ve replaced the prepacked hampers and offer people the dignity of choice in a welcoming and supportive environment,” Donaldson says.

The food bank is fully staffed by trained volunteers and patrons are asked to pre-book a 30-minute appointment and are encouraged to have a shopping list, budget and recipe plan prior to arriving.

“These appointments are important for us to be able to get to know them, build trust, and offer hope,” Donaldson says. “We take the time to understand their goals and see how we can help them achieve those goals. If we’re not helping transform lives, we’re failing.”

The Salvation Army’s work in Kirkland Lake is just one of many examples of the organization’s mission to be a transforming influence in communities around the world. Founded in 1865, the international, faith-based organization is one of the largest direct providers of non-governmental social services in the country, assisting more than 400 communities across Canada and 132 countries around the globe.

With the help of donors and volunteers, The Salvation Army served 2.8 million meals at shelters and feeding programs in Canada and Bermuda between 2020 and 2021, with 84,000 meals served at school breakfast programs. More than 1.5 million people received help with food, clothing, and practical assistance. As the country reeled from the impacts of COVID-19, the organization made it possible for 40,000 people to receive visits in hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, and daycares, and for 7,200 vulnerable youth to get help through one of its many community youth programs.

Despite its massive efforts, the reality of rising inflation, COVID-19 and a growing gap between social service benefits and the basic costs to live have created a perfect storm – driving an even greater need for The Salvation Army’s vital programs and services. This summer’s HopeFULL Campaign offers individuals the opportunity to be part of the solution and help improve the lives of thousands of people who are struggling with such basics as food and safe shelter by making a one-time or monthly donation.

With a proven track record stretching back many decades, The Salvation Army offers donors across the country the confidence that their dollars are used by the organization to help offer vital programs and services while carefully managing and containing administrative and fundraising costs. From its network of popular thrift stores to its internationally recognized Kettle Campaign, The Salvation Army offers a variety of ways for Canadians to contribute financially, and every dollar helps.

For people who want to give their time and talent, volunteering with The Salvation Army offers a sense of community and connection with like-minded individuals who share a desire to bring understanding and compassion to those who feel lost or forgotten.

“We journey alongside these people,” Donaldson says. “It’s such a wonderful opportunity to roll up your sleeves, get involved and genuinely help people in service that is critical and life-changing.”

He says it’s been inspiring to see the feeling of community that has evolved in Kirkland Lake. “I meet clients in the grocery store or just walking the street and they know who I am. They will often ask me if there’s anything the food bank needs this week,” he says.

The support for The Salvation Army’s thrift store, food bank and meal program has been nothing short of remarkable, he says, with residents of the town, whose population is less than 8,000 people, donating $79,000 last year alone. “We went from providing meals to 85 family units to 130 family units per month. It really shows the power of community to make a difference,” Donaldson says.

To learn more about how you can support the transformative work of The Salvation Army through its summer HopeFULL Campaign, visit salvationarmy.ca/hopefull.


Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio and The Salvation Army. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.