HALIFAX -- Maritime charities are busy as the clock counts down to the first Christmas season celebrated during the global pandemic.

Even as the first doses of a vaccine candidate appear bound for Canada this month, there is still an increasing need for the services of non-profit groups as the pandemic continues.

One such group is the Out of the Cold Community Foundation, which normally runs an overnight drop-in shelter during the winter.

But this year, it plans to operate a 25-bed shelter with staff 24 hours a day, in a building it has leased at 1221 Barrington Street in Halifax. 

"We have a little bit of renovations to do inside," says executive director Michelle Malette.

But the Foundation hopes to open the doors this Saturday, Dec. 12.

The facility will have separated rooms with bathrooms and showers, laundry facilities, and a full kitchen to supply meals.

According to the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia, as of Dec. 1 there were 492 people in the city without a home.

Malette says 30 of them cannot find shelter housing. She says that's because of a shortage of beds due to pandemic restrictions, and an increased demand because of the housing crisis in Halifax.

"There's not much housing. It's a pretty big concern. We are looking forward to being able to get some people inside," says Malette.

There are also charities hard at work trying to provide food for those in need.

On Mondays, volunteers cooked and plated hundreds of meals as part of Lower Sackville's Freedom Kitchen, which has seen an increase in food insecurity in the area.

"A year and a half ago we were planning on being a mobile soup kitchen," says co-chair Rainie Murphy.

But now, the group provides more than 500 meals a week to people in need.  

Since the start of the pandemic, it's been using a borrowed food truck to hand out meals. But it soon hopes to have a more permanent structure erected on the site of its operations centre at Knox United Church on Sackville Drive.

Murphy says they'd love to have it ready for the meal on Dec. 21.

"We'd like to be able to serve it right from the front door," Murphy said.

The organization has also collected donations of gifts for area seniors, to be delivered when they deliver their Christmas meal the week of Dec. 25.

To keep people warm this winter, the push is on in Dartmouth to collect new winter coats, hats and mitts, for area residents in need.

Dartmouth North MLA Sue LeBlanc is using her constituency officer on Wyse Road to collect donated clothing as part of a community effort involving several local groups.

She says there is definitely a greater need for help because of the pandemic.

"There's more pressures, there's more need," she says. "And it's not as easy to get the help."

Organizers of a clothing drive say the pandemic put a pause on clothing donations for many groups, and even this one had to adjust its plans because of gathering restrictions in the Halifax area. It can't allow people to gather to pick up donations. So instead, it's going to take the donations directly to the people who need then.

The group is taking names of people in need, and then will be dropping clothing off with the help of the Dartmouth North Community Centre van service.

Doris MacDonald is a parishioner at SonLife Church, which is one of the groups organizing the clothing drive.

"Basically the day off, we will use the community van," she says. "And we'll do porch drops, and drop the clothing off."

Anyone interested in donating clothing, or in being included in the drop-off, can contact Sue LeBlanc's office.

Deliveries will happen this Saturday, Dec. 12.