Food Banking in the New Reality: The Story of SOS Dépannage Moisson Granby

With one year to go before retirement, Norman Dunn, the Director General for SOS Dépannage Moisson Granby, was starting to finally ease up on his hectic work schedule.

As the founder of Moisson Granby, to say that his retirement is well deserved would be an understatement.

That’s because Norman has dedicated the past 34 years to evolving Moisson Granby from a small soup kitchen, to a fully-fledged community organization that helps people in a variety of ways beyond food insecurity. “It is a passion for me,” says Norman. “It’s also a bit of an obsession. I’ve actually had to take up meditation in order to stop thinking so much about those affected by poverty.”

His sincere empathy and commitment for helping others meant that not even impending retirement would be enough to slow Norman down in the wake of a sudden crisis.

“Here I was, getting ready to retire and then the pandemic hit,” recounts Norman. “I will remember that day for the rest of my life. As the aftermath started hitting communities across Canada, businesses and restaurants started shutting their doors and we knew it was only a matter of time before we felt the impact (of those closures) at Moisson Granby.”

The impact Norman anticipated was immediate. Before the pandemic, Moisson Granby typically served an average of 10 families per day. Overnight, that number jumped by 500 percent.

“60% of the people who came to our doors in the first month (of the pandemic) were first-time visitors,” explains Norman. “With so many in need of food, it didn’t take long to realize that new internal structures needed to be put in place. Plus we had to do it all with a drastically reduced staff.” That’s because like most organizations and businesses impacted by the pandemic, Moisson Granby had to unfortunately lay off a percentage of their workforce.

Yet Norman and the remaining staff quickly adapted to any challenges because they knew that people in the community were counting on them.

“When you’re dealing with the unknown, which is what the pandemic was in the beginning, you have no choice but to act without hesitation,” says Norman. “So we immediately went out and bought more food, plus we purchased five new refrigerators and freezers to increase our capacity to store everything. I’m happy to say that we were able to get everything up and running quickly (in under week) to ensure that nobody went away empty handed. Not only that, but we were able to guarantee enough fresh food portions for each family member.”

While many small food banks rely mostly on donations and government grants to keep their doors open, Moisson Granby was in a solid position financially at the start of the pandemic.

That’s because they had already raised 70% of their regular annual operating budget through a variety of businesses owned and operated under the SOS Dépannage banner. This includes a restaurant, a thrift store, a soup kitchen, and a vegetable garden. Proceeds from all of these businesses then get channelled into buying supplies for the food bank (Moisson Granby).

However, Norman also appreciated the fact that a helping hand, financial or otherwise, was always there when they needed it.

“What really kept us going throughout the increased demand of the pandemic was when Food Banks Canada, Food Banks of Quebec, and our provincial government all stepped in and gave us money. We even had people in our community stepping up to make donations through our Moisson Granby website, it was incredible.”

Thanks to the combined support from so many, Moisson Granby has been able to make financial donations last longer to help more people.

“Granby is a small town with very big hearts. Thanks to the community, we’ve been able to make the money that was provided to us by Food Banks Canada last longer. We’ve spent about half of that money so far on essential things such as buying extra food and gas for our delivery vehicles. Plus our one and only forklift, used for collecting and storing food in our warehouse, recently stopped working. So now we’re looking into buying a new one. It’s important for me to be smart with how we spend any money we get because we don’t know what’s going to happen in the fall. But it’s also meant that when a small food kitchen in a community two hours away reaches out to ask us for help, I’m able to immediately say yes,” says Norman. “It’s a great feeling to have the flexibility to do that.”

Saying ‘yes’ to people in need has led to Moisson Granby handing out 182,190 kilograms of food in a span of just 4 months.

“That works out to about $844,675.46 since March,” explains Norman, who has got every food item tracked down to the penny. “Plus it was important for us to keep all of that spending within Granby. Over the past few months, local stores have even called to thank me for all of the food orders we’ve been giving them. With restaurants being closed, they were especially appreciative. More importantly, they were finally beginning to recognize the critical role that we (food banks) play in the community.”

It is a role that continues to evolve with each passing year and through every new challenge.

“In the beginning I knew nothing about the pandemic,” admits Norman. “But that didn’t stop me from reading and watching TV to become better informed. While I had to learn how to handle this particular challenge, this isn’t the first crisis we’ve been faced with. Back in 1998, the great ice storm of Quebec closed our location for a month. Yet we were able to adapt in the moment by transforming the local arena into a giant, temporary food bank. So when COVID-19 happened, I channelled everything I learned in ‘98 and then took it the next level.”

For Norman, keeping these stories alive is part of the legacy he wants to leave behind.

“As a way to keep spirits up during the pandemic, we created a story wall at Moisson Granby and called it ‘Bunker 10-4’. Everybody working that day will then post a picture or a message that demonstrates what we’ve all been experiencing through the pandemic—the good, the bad, and everything in between. These stories are important. I don’t want people to ever forget about them.”

One story in particular stands out as an example of just how much Moisson Granby gives to people beyond food.

Norman goes on to describe what happened, “It was the day before Easter and I remember thinking to myself that we didn’t have any chocolates to hand out to families. Yet it didn’t feel right spending the money we had for food to go out and buy sweets. So instead, I contacted a local pharmacy and explained the situation. Next thing I know, a truckload of chocolate showed up at our doorstep. I was blown away. Because of this very big, very generous donation, everybody in the family, even the parents, got a box of Easter chocolates with their groceries that day. What really got me in the heartstrings were the reactions we got from people. Some even started to cry as they picked up their food items. It was just a little thing. But to them, it meant so much”

That level of care is something Norman hopes will continue long after he retires.

“Even after almost 35 years, I always listen to the people we help—regardless of their situation. So I guess that would be my ultimate legacy for whoever comes after me. To remember these are human beings. They deserve our kindness and our respect. But we must also never begin to normalize poverty. A food bank is not normal in a country like Canada and it should never be. That’s why we all must do our part to work towards a future where food banks are only stories told of the past.”

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