Past year busy and challenging for Manitoulin Family Resources

The new Manitoulin Family Resources food bank is expected to be in open in the next few weeks.

MANITOULIN—It was a very busy year with accomplishments to celebrate, but also a difficult year for Manitoulin Family Resources (MFR).

“We had a very busy year, and when we look back at what has taken place and what people have had to endure over the past two years, I’m not going to sugar coat it; it was a hard year,” stated Marnie Hall, executive director of MFR, after the organization’s recent annual meeting. “There were some new programs created and programs that we took on and added to. It was definitely a team effort, MFR, DSB (Manitoulin-Sudbury District Services Board) and our other partners, and was definitely a learning curve for all of us, all in the middle of a pandemic.”

Ms. Hall said, on the positive side, one of the things MFR is looking forward to is the opening of a new, much larger food bank. “It’s still being set up, there is still work being done on the MFR side of the new building. It will be cordoned off, with the opening of the new food bank. We are looking forward to this being opened, maybe in the next few weeks.”

“The new food bank is going to provide greater privacy and confidentiality,” said Ms. Hall. She said using different coloured panels, detailing where clients go for different services, it will make it easier for people to access. “When the food bank is opened, the thrift shop will still be closed, but with the coloured panels it will make it clear where people are to go to access a specific service.”

As for the Thrift Shop, “we are aiming to have the new thrift shop operational by the end of the summer,” continued Ms. Hall. “We want to have that open and operating by the end of the summer, before kids go back to school when we know people will need the support of the thrift shop.”

Ms. Hall noted that Nikki Thompson has been hired by MFR as food security program supervisor but Linda Gilchrist will be staying on to help oversee things.

“On behalf of the management team, I would like to welcome you to this year’s annual general meeting of (MFR). It is a privilege to share with you my reflections on the work of the agency, staff and volunteers over the 2021-2022 fiscal year. This evening’s presentation represents our work of a second full year of working through the COVID pandemic,” said Ms. Hall. “Preparing the report for the annual meeting turned out to be a greater challenge than we had anticipated. While we are proud to share some of the highlights and achievements of the agency and its programs of this past year, I would be remiss to not share that these are reflections on a very difficult year. It was hard, to say the least. It drew on everyone’s reserves to support our clients, our programs and one another to reach this point and, on behalf of the board and myself, for that I say thank you.”

“The reality is that year one and year two of pandemic operations blur together when I first look back but looking deeper, there are some significant areas of contrast,” said Ms. Hall. “In year one, we accomplished things we had never even envisioned, emergency child-care, virtual Early ON, virtual and remote counselling, building renovations, an emergency home shelter. Year two began to show the true impact of the pandemic adjustments on our community members: increasing numbers in the opioid crisis, in homelessness, in admissions to VAW shelters, in human trafficking, in food bank usage… a workforce shortage, a childcare shortage, a housing shortage, the emotional and physical demands that left us a little battle scarred. It is important for that to be acknowledged tonight.”

“We have also, however, had ongoing support throughout and that kept us going,” said Ms. Hall. “To our funders, including the Manitoulin-Sudbury District Services Board, the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services, Ontario Health, Food Banks Canada, FeedOntario, Women’s Shelters Canada and the Canadian Women’s Foundation, thank you for providing funding and flexibility as you could to support our attempts to support others. To the program supervisors and staff of each of those settings, thank you for advocating on our behalf so that we could best meet the needs of our clients. You have had our backs as we have continued on the frontline throughout all of this and that has often made the impossible, possible.”

“On a more local level, we would also like to acknowledge the support we received from our community partners, including the Manitoulin Health Centre and Assessment Centre, the Indigenous Health Services of Mnidoo Mnising, Public Health Sudbury and Districts, local police and emergency services and, specifically, Dr. Maurianne Reade. From having clients needing to isolate to be tested, to having staff vaccinated, to delivering our services to those most vulnerable in a way as safe as possible for others,” continued Ms. Hall. “We could not have continued to deliver all that we did, throughout, with the help of many others.”

Ms. Hall said, “there were days that we laughed and days that we cried; some of the best days held moments of both. Those experiences are mirrored by the irony of living in one of the most beautiful areas while being made painfully aware of the great needs of our most vulnerable citizens. Whether it’s providing child-care, providing food support, or providing shelter and physical safety, the work that we do is the work of the heart. We care as we do and we give all we can, and we will use this upcoming year to replenish our own reserves, as the only thing harder than watching someone come in from sleeping outside in the winter is watching them have to return to it. This is a reality for too many in our beautiful region, and it will be up to all of us as to how we support those most in need in the months ahead; how we, collectively, tend to the needs of the most vulnerable will define our post-pandemic community.”

“To the board of directors, thank you for your ongoing dedication to the agency and the people we serve and for your faith and trust in the staff and myself,” said Ms. Hall. “You have travelled with us down roads we never anticipated exploring and you let us be there for others who needed us. You listened and guided, and demonstrated both courage and patience. Your support is appreciated.”

“To the staff and volunteers who have held strong to the frontlines throughout all of this, we truly, truly thank you,” said Ms. Hall. “You gave of your hearts and have gone above and beyond, at every request. You have literally helped thousands of people in the most meaningful of ways and I am very honoured to be known as your executive director.”