Nova Scotia

Volunteers in Cape Breton find ways to get food to people living in rural Margarees

Fledgling community groups in Inverness County, Cape Breton, are working to make sure people living in isolated countryside homes have enough to eat.

“We don’t have a store on every corner. We don’t have all of the amenities of larger towns and or cities,” said Liz Birch who is a senior herself and a member of the Northeast Margaree Seniors and Pensioners Club.

“So seniors have but one choice —  they either have to go and get the groceries and bring them home, put them away, get them prepared, etc., or they avail themselves of a program, but there aren’t any.”

That’s why three local organizations are trying to make it easier for people who face difficulties travelling to larger centres for groceries or other necessities like drug prescriptions.

The Cheticamp branch of Meals on Wheels started a pilot project a few months ago to deliver meals to the Margaree area. However, a local branch is needed in order to expand the program and use local volunteers.

Liz Birch is a member of the Northeast Margaree Seniors and Pensioners Club. (Erin Pottie)

The Cheticamp branch supported 10 people for six months. It got an extension but Kristin Muntz, one of the people leading the charge to create the local branch, said a Margaree branch would allow them to expand the program to at least 25 people. Muntz said it is a necessity especially with an aging population and increased inflation. 

“Here in the Margarees we are isolated, we are a very northern community,” said Muntz.

“It’s tough for a lot of seniors to get out in the winter let alone during the year to be able to shop for groceries”

Birch’s brother and sister-in-law have been using the Meals on Wheels program. She says it’s been invaluable to them and to others as well.

“They get their meals three times a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Those days are great days,” she said.

“My brother and his wife are fortunate they have each other, but there are a lot of single seniors out there that don’t have that.”

A woman wearing a sweater standing in a room.
Kristin Muntz is helping to organize a Meals on Wheels program in the Margarees, Cape Breton. (Erin Pottie)

The group supporting Meals on Wheels is partnering with the Margaree Fire Hall as it is a central location that has regular snow removal in the winter. The hall also has a large kitchen suitable for meal prep, though Muntz said it needs upgrades.

The group has raised $20,000 but needs around $140,000 for its first year of operation. Much of that money will go toward setting up the program, including upgrading the kitchen. Two cooks will be paid a salary as well. 

While the group’s partnership with the fire department gives them a central, well maintained space to operate, it’s proving to be a complication when it comes to obtaining funding from the municipality.

Inverness County generally doesn’t give money to fire departments for hall infrastructure like kitchens.

Coun. Blair Phillips said he’s been getting more calls lately from constituents looking for help.

“A lot of times there’ll be a senior who has lost their spouse, so their money is cut in half,” he said.

“With the price of oil and just daily living, it’s hard to make ends meet.”

With that in mind and the proliferation of organizations aimed at tackling food insecurity, council plans to make the issue the top agenda item for the first meeting of the new year.

The Meals on Wheels group applied for a community district grant but there also was not enough money in that fund to meet their $25,000 request. The request has been deferred until December so that council can look into more options to fund the group.

A woman with grey hair and glasses sits in front of a corner window.
Mary MacNeil is the chair of the Margaree Food Security Program which launched in July 2023. (Erin Pottie)

More help with food

Another group helping people in the area is the Margaree Food Security Program, which launched in July.

The program, which is currently in a six-month trial period, provides gift cards at the local co-op. Users can get a gift card every two weeks: singles receive $50, couples $75 and families $100. 

The program is seeing uptake from seniors, adults, and families. Mary MacNeil, the chair of the program, said they average about three calls a week but expects it to rise as people will soon need to pay for winter heating.

“A lot of people depend on seasonal employment and then there’s employment insurance during the winter. We have a large senior population here who would be on a very fixed income and it was the general feeling that things weren’t going to get better,” said MacNeil.

Her group considered starting a food bank, but realized gift cards were a simpler and more anonymous solution. 

“Our main goal is to recognize people’s pride and dignity.”

The program recently received $3,000 from the Municipality of Inverness. They also received funds from the local Kinsmen Club after it closed its doors. 

Another not for profit organization is also set to expand in the Margarees. L’Acabie, which is based in Cheticamp, is a service that provides people with rides to medical appointments and trips to the grocery store. It will soon be doing grocery deliveries in the area.

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