No sooner had a collective sigh of relief gone up after the 8+ month logging strike on Vancouver Island ended when Covid-19 hit. Businesses, school and churches across Canada were forced to close their doors during the first wave of the pandemic. While waiting for the okay to reopen, St. John Gualbert Church in Port McNeill quickly regrouped and rethought the way they deliver programs to the community. Some of the regular programs like choir and weekly potluck lunches were shelved indefinitely. Others like Sunday services were revised with strict Covid guidelines. And funding was applied for and received for new programs like a monthly lunch for seniors called Picnic in the Park.
Founded in 1963 St. John Gualbert Church has always been known as a true community church. In the early days the church was shared by many denominations including: Anglican, United and Catholic. In 1972 the church became what’s known as an Anglican-United Fellowship. The name St. John Gualbert originates from Saint Giovanni Gualberto the patron saint of forestry workers.
In a serendipitous conversation with a church board member months ago, Leslie Dyck who is the North Island Staff Coordinator for a program called Loaves and Fishes based in Nanaimo forged a relationship with the church. Originally delivering only to Port Hardy the food distribution program now includes Port McNeill twice a month.
Peter Sinclair, is the executive Director of Loaves & Fishes Food Bank in Nanaimo. He explains, “usually a food bank means food scarcity but Loaves & Fishes find they have an over abundance of food.” Providing a brief snapshot of the program Sinclair says, “in 2011 the program gave out $800,000 worth of food. In 2012 the program added food recovery meaning food that would have otherwise been thrown away. Sinclair adds, in 2019 that number rose to $4.6 million and this year he anticipates it will top $5 million.
Deborah Murray, an appointed Church Elder at St. John Gualbert, explains that every second Wednesday the church offers food to whoever needs or wants it. Echoing Sinclair’s assertion, “it is not a food bank. This is food distribution. We don’t hang on to any of it. And you don’t have to qualify or sign up.” Word quickly spread organically by word of mouth as well as through notices on social media. Local grocery store IGA donates food to the program and during the summer months local residents also donated excess garden produce.
Along with Loaves & Fishes the church provides a hot take-out dinner program twice a month. Again Murray is quick to point out there are no rules as to who can participate, “the meals are for everyone at no charge but donations are accepted.” Serving 40 to 80 people, the dinners are homemade, hearty & healthy and packaged to go.
Another North Island connection in Victoria prompted a group called Soap for Hope to reach out to the church. A non-profit group, Soap for Hope provides hygiene kits in BC & Alberta to food banks, schools, low income seniors and First Nations communities. So far two shipments have been delivered to Port McNeill that include: soap, hair care products, body wash & lotion, toothbrushes and deodorant. Organizers have developed a way to get freight here at no cost through someone who works in Port Hardy but lives in Victoria. Murray adds, “if there is a specific request such as dog food or teen snacks the group will try their best to help.”
Here are a few ways you can help St. John Gualbert’s community programs:
⁃ Donate books to A-Frame Bookstore. Books for all ages are donated and the bookstore is run by volunteers 6 day a week.
⁃ Buy a Christmas tree (an annual church fundraiser)
⁃ Help your community with cash or food items
⁃ Attend the mini Christmas Craft Fair at the church Dec. 5th from 10am-2pm
For more information contact the church at 250.956.3533
On Facebook at: St. John Anglican United Church or A-Frame Bookstore
Visit their website at: https://stjohngualbertchurch.wordpress.com/