SHEDIAC, N.B. -- Food banks across the Maritimes are seeing a major spike in demand, as unemployment rates rise during the COVID-19 pandemic.

New Brunswick's 60 food banks are relying heavily on donations, with minimal staff to meet the increasing needs.

"New clients that have never been to a food bank before, but now because of layoffs or the situation at hand itself, they are coming to us for help,” says Mark LeBlanc, executive director of Vestiaire Saint-Joespeh.

Food Depot Alimentaire supplies 60 food banks across New Brunswick. Chantal Senecal, the organization’s executive director, says some regions are already seeing a 30 per cent jump in use.

“We're getting calls each and every day about people who have been laid off and are still waiting on benefits from the government, and they have no money coming in. So it really doesn’t take long when people are living paycheque to paycheque to need food,” says Senecal.

The Vestiaire Saint-Joespeh, or Shediac Food Bank, operates on the revenue from its retail store, which was forced to close due to restrictions put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Access to the food bank, which usually operates grocery-store style, is now also restricted. The skeleton staff of just four people are finding no-contact ways to keep their services running.

“We construct boxes now, put them all together, we meet our clients outside,” says LeBlanc.

“Clients come at appointment times, so there’s never a lineup. Our staff place the items on a chair and step back and our clients take the items there.”

The Food Depot Alimentaire has brought in university students to help earlier than usual. Teachers are also stepping up to help feed children who would normally rely on school food programs.

“We quickly created a delivery for school food boxes,” says Senecal.

“There’s a mobile bagged lunch program happening in Moncton and that’s really starting to happen across the province as well.”