TILLSONBURG, ONT. -- A local food bank is in the process of making posters to promote a dramatic change in its annual September food drive.

The operators of Helping Hand Food Bank in Tillsonburg have decided gift card donations are the way of the future and they are looking to end, or at least limit, in-person food donations from the public (although corporate food donations will continue).

COVID-19 is the sole reason behind the move.

Helping Hand Interim Coordinator Brenda Fitzgerald came up with the idea after measuring the risk to volunteers and the public. She worried there were too many hands on the Helping Hand donated supplies.

“Just physically bringing them into the building is not possible right now."

Fitzgerald went to the town’s grocers and received support to change the upcoming September food drive from curbside and store-based, to a gift card collection.

Signs are currently being produced encouraging people to buy a gift card, in a denomination they can afford, and donate it at the store to Helping Hand.

Fitzgerald admits it is a big change for the public to accept, and a risk for her agency to take. Still the plan will proceed.

“The gift cards for us to spend, just seems to be the way to go. At this point we don’t know if it's going to be a success, but we know Tillsonburg and they’ll come through for us."

In last year’s September food drive, Helping Hand collected 51,000 pounds of food.

Coordinator Joan Clarkson estimates they’ll need to collect $150,000 worth of gift cards to match that weight.

It’s a tall order, but both women feel it’s the best path forward, and if successful, one they’ll take into the Thanksgiving and Christmas food drive season.

Success is crucial as Clarkson, who retires after 11 years on the job at the end of the month, fears a food bank challenge like no other is just on the horizon.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen when CERB runs out, when all the unemployment runs out. Look, when everything gets really rough, we will have to make sure that we have enough out there to be there for our community."

And with fewer volunteers allowed in the building, and more needed to shop for specific supplies once gift cards replace donations, Fitzgerald admits it will not be and easy task.

It will be a whole lot more work for us because we won’t have things on the shelves. We will have to buy the things that normally just come in on donation."

Still those who will now shop, and then give to those in need, including Terry, are willing to have their ‘hands’ work a little harder for Helping Hands.

“Everybody needs help and somebody’s got to do it."

It should be noted that Helping Hand will accept food donations at their headquarters if people still prefer, but they strongly encourage the move towards gift cards.