SAINT JOHN -- It wasn’t long ago that masks were in such high demand, that it was difficult to find them on store shelves or online.

But these days, masks are being given away, including in Saint John, where the city is trying to boost the use of masks, especially in struggling neighbourhoods.

An employee from the city of Saint John arrived at the Romero House soup kitchen Thursday morning with a supply of free masks.

“We’re trying to protect our most vulnerable people,” says Evelyn McNulty, Executive Director of the Romero House soup kitchen. “That’s our elderly and people whose lifestyle or where they’re living, or whether they’re eating, or if their health is more tenuous, and that’s people living in poverty.”

The city is trying to boost the use of masks in some of the so-called vulnerable neighbourhoods, where poverty is high but the use of masks may not be.

“So we’re really happy to receive these from the city,” says McNulty.

Masks were also dropped off in the Crescent Valley neighbourhood, where for some, masks are beyond their means.

“If you’ve got a family of three, four, five kids, and need at least two each, it can be quite costly and kids are going to lose a mask,” says Anne Driscoll, Executive Director of the Crescent Valley Resource Centre. “So it’s important to be able to provide the disposable ones.”

However, free masks will not be available on Saint John city buses. The city says it has a good supply of masks, but not an inexhaustible supply.

“There’s going to be a limit like there is to everything,” says Saint John councillor John MacKenzie.

MacKenzie says the city’s high poverty rate demands a mask giveaway.

“People who are living day-to-day, wondering where they’re going to eat and what they’re going to eat. This takes one thing off their plate that they don’t have to worry about,” says MacKenzie.

The idea seems to have wide support.

“It makes sense, I mean, it’s the smart thing to do,” says Saint John resident Peter Little. “We don’t know where this virus is. There may not be any active cases around here right now, but who’s to say that there isn’t?”

The city says if they run out of masks, they will try to replenish the supplies.