The Alberni Valley Salvation Army brought in a mobile kitchen unit from Gibson’s, B.C. in order to bring food to residents who don’t have the means to get to the Argyle Street location, or who have no fixed address. (MICHAEL RAMSAY PHOTO)

QUINN’S QUIPS: Volunteers answer the escalating need to feed people in the Alberni Valley

“Even though the need is really high, this is really the community with heart”

Salvation Army Captain Michael Ramsay has a meme on his Facebook page that states, ‘Tough times don’t last; tough teams do.”

Ramsay is at the helm of a tough team helping an entire community deal with a tough time right now.

The Alberni Valley Salvation Army is used to helping people at critical times in their lives, but the coronavirus pandemic and the economic fallout from the shelter-in-place orders have shifted the ministry and its partners into overdrive.

“It’s been on a steady incline,” Ramsay says of the number of people they have been helping. “One day we served 672 individuals, and that was our biggest day. It’s getting close to 600 a day.”

Just before the pandemic hit, the Community Food Bank—which the Salvation Army looks after—was helping 50 families per week.

Here’s another way of looking at the incredible work the Salvation Army and rest of the COVID-19 Response Team have done: last year, according to Ramsay, Salvation Army helped 4,500 people when an emergency or disaster struck. In the past two weeks, The Alberni Valley Ministry (and team) helped 7,908 people.

The response is part of a cohesive effort in the Alberni Valley, with Salvation Army, Bread of Life and the Canadian Mental Health Association teaming up to ensure our vulnerable population is fed and supplied with hygiene products that will keep them healthy as we deal with this global pandemic.

The COVID-19 Response Team has assisted the school backpack program with bulk purchasing of food, and is supplying food for Island Health, CMHA, the Friendship Centre and any other organizations and individuals who are hungry or need help. It’s all about food security and personal safety, says Ramsay. These are necessities, not extras.

The COVID-19 Response Team is always in need of food, hygiene supplies and volunteers. Ramsay says numerous people have stepped up to help as the need has increased. Volunteers from Port Alberni’s Rotary clubs have delivered meals and hampers to people, and other organizations and individuals have stepped up to fill the gaps. There are 16 routes that drivers fill, and the mobile kitchen van that the Salvation Army has borrowed from Gibson’s, B.C. has helped reach people on the streets.

“We’ve been blessed with the number of volunteers that we have coming in. We always need more as the need keeps growing,” he says.

The mobile kitchen brought a different facet to helping serve the Valley’s vulnerable population, and Ramsay hopes it becomes a permanent fixture here. “There’s certainly a need here in Port Alberni going year-round with homelessness and people in challenging circumstances. We’ve found this to be a really good tool to reach out to people.”

Cash donations to assist in these Herculean efforts can be made through the COVID-19 Response Team fundraiser on Facebook, or either Bread of Life or Alberni Valley Salvation Army at

Cheques are also gratefully accepted at the Bread of Life or Salvation Army, Ramsay said.

As Ramsay and his family prepare to spend another year serving the Alberni Valley ministry, he says he is thankful to be living here at this moment.

“Even though the need is really high, this is really the community with heart,” he says. “I’m so grateful for the people that have been coming to volunteer and coming out to donate at a time of their own need.”

Susie Quinn is the Alberni Valley News editor.

(*EDITED: The print edition of this column had incorrect information about the way Salvation Army is helping the school backpack program. The Salvation Army provides bulk purchasing of food for the backpack program, but their program runs separately)

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Volunteers assemble meals in the Salvation Army kitchen on Argyle Street in Port Alberni. Volunteers deliver frozen meals on 16 different routes around the Alberni Valley. (MICHAEL RAMSAY PHOTO)

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