Written by Stacy Underhill.
Walking into the Greater Blackville Resource Centre (GBRC) for the first time, I thought I had made a wrong turn into a clothing store. The GBRC is located in two small offices in the same building as the Voice of Hope Ministries in Blackville. Every Thursday it spills out into the adjoining foyer of the church, which is filled with racks of gently used clothing, donated from the community.
“We were blessed to get these racks and hangers from a woman’s clothing store that is closing,” explained Pastor Albertine LeBlanc as she scooped up her granddaughter, Amelia, and led me through the foyer into the kitchen in the back. A couple passed me carrying a box of food to their car, while others browsed through the racks.
“Where do you want to start?” she asked cheerfully, adjusting Amelia on her lap as we settled into the kitchen table. Several times already, and throughout the interview, volunteer workers came in to prepare food boxes and ask questions. Although I had her full attention, I could tell there was much work to be done. I asked her to start at the beginning, to describe the services, and how this got started.
“The main service we offer is the food bank, and we sell clothing, household items, and children’s necessities at discount prices. That money goes back into the food bank to purchase perishable items as needed, such as milk and eggs. This has been a vision for my husband and I both for a very long time. I have had to access a food bank myself in the past and I understand the need. We are so much more than a food bank though, which is why we chose the name Greater Blackville Resource Centre, to reflect that. We recognized there was a need in the community for such a service. There is no reason why locals should have to scramble to find a drive, or spend gas money to drive to Miramichi for food. For years local resident Silas Jardine has been collecting donations from the community, going door to door and soliciting through churches, to collect food for those in need. This has always been a dream for him too, he just wasn’t sure how to get started.”
The GBRC services the Village of Blackville and surrounding areas and is open every Thursday from 10am to 4pm. There are currently 20 families from the area being serviced by the food bank, and this number is growing each week.
“Everyone from our area, who used to be serviced at the Doaktown or Miramichi food banks, are now being sent to us,” says Pastor LeBlanc. “And we’re seeing more and more each week, as they get redirected. We are also a member of the New Brunswick Association of Food Banks.”
Although the resource centre is located in the same building as the church, and its pastor is driving the cause, they are two separate entities. “Right now I am the one who is spearheading it because I have the connections, I have the energy and drive to get this running. But I am certainly not in this alone. The goal is to form a Board of Directors and get more members of the community involved. At the end of each Thursday the clothing racks get pushed into another room, and this becomes our church foyer once again.”
When asked where she saw the GBRC in five years, Pastor Albertine’s face lit up. “Oh I have a dream!” she said enthusiastically. “You have to remember this is all very new. We just opened our doors on August 2nd, 2012 and we are just getting started. With more volunteers, and the funding to hire a full-time manager, the goal is to be open Monday to Friday. The dream is for it to be completely self-sustaining, and located in its own building some day. Eventually we want to operate a soup kitchen, starting with one meal per week, to provide a wholesome meal for clients. It is one less meal they have to worry about providing for their families. It is also important to bring people together in a supportive environment, to improve social development and community spirit.
“We have so many ideas, such as starting a community garden, sponsoring families at Christmas, and offering seminars and workshops on developing life skills. The overall mission is to provide a better quality of living for people in the community.”
Pastor LeBlanc feels it is the responsibility of a community to take care of those in need. “We as clergy, we as a community need to look after our own community. People can take pride in looking after their own, and it feels good to give. The church is seeking to partner with Social Development through available grants so that we can serve our community as a joint effort.”Soon it was lunch time and volunteers who had been working out front started popping into the kitchen for a snack. It was clearly time to let Pastor Albertine get back to her busy schedule. In addition to being a pastor and establishing the GBRC, she also serves on the Board of Directors of the John Howard Society in Miramichi, and for Bridges of Canada, and is the chaplain at the Women’s Institution in Miramichi.
After being offered a tasty bowl of seafood chowder, made by Silas, and a cup of coffee, I stayed and chatted with Barb Doiron who had been working in the resource centre all morning. I asked her why she decided to volunteer.“I am so grateful for the opportunity to give back,” said Barbara. “We have all been down this road at one point, where we needed help from someone, and I am glad to be here for those who need it. I love seeing the benefit to the community and knowing we are making a difference. It makes life better for everyone when we help each other out.”
Upon leaving I asked Pastor Albertine if there was anything else she wanted people to know about the resource centre. Without skipping a beat she said, “I want to say thank you! Thank you to the community for their generosity and support. We’ve had one couple, Jim and Stella Stewart, ask for donations to the food bank in lieu of gifts at their anniversary party. Several others have dropped in with bags of groceries, and donations of clothing and yard sale items. Blackville Valu Foods donated proceeds in the form of store credit from a 50/50 draw, and the Dungarvon ATV club held a fundraiser and food drive. There is also a craft sale and food drive to be held in October. I can’t say enough how appreciative we are of the support. With the help of the community, the resource centre will go way beyond what it is today!”
How you can help:
- Donate your time by volunteering. With more volunteers, the centre can be open more days per week. Volunteers are needed to sort donations, hang-up clothing, and attend to customers on Thursdays and possibly Fridays.
- Donate food items for the food bank. Non-perishable and frozen items are accepted, and the most needed items are canned meat and fish, and soup.
- Donate clothing and household items to be sold in the centre.
- Drop by the GBRC on Thursdays to purchase clothing and attend the indoor/outdoor yardsale (weather permitting).
- Other items needed at the resource centre are freezers (please make sure they work first) and a computer for the office.
- Businesses can get involved by placing a box labelled Food Bank in the business, as a reminder to both employees and customers/ clients to donate.
- Organize a casual day where employees pay $1 or bring in food, to wear jeans.
To contact the GBRC you can find them on facebook, http://www.facebook.com/BlackvilleResourceCentre or call Pastor Albertine at 843-9034.