Debby Warren with one of the harm-reduction vending machines. (Photo courtesy of Ensemble Greater Moncton)

Topics: July/August 2021, UCC in Focus | Society

This church’s vending machine gives out free needles, not snacks

Sackville United is targeting New Brunswick’s overdose problem with harm-reduction supplies


A church in Sackville, N.B., has partnered with a community organization to provide free harm-reduction supplies. In early March, a vending machine was set up at the entrance of Sackville United to assist the community with safer drug use.

According to a 2020 study, almost one percent of New Brunswick’s population injected drugs in 2016 — a 37 percent increase since 2011 — placing the province second after British Columbia.

The statistics “knocked my socks off,” says Debby Warren, executive director of Ensemble Greater Moncton. “And so we should be going, ‘Holy moly, we need to do something about this.’”

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Warren’s social services organization received federal funding for two harm-reduction vending machines. It placed one on its own site in Moncton and one in the church. The first machine dispensed 52,000 needles within the first two months of deployment.

The machines, made by SMRT1 Technologies, a company based in Nelson, B.C., provide 24-hour free access to clean needles, overdose prevention kits and educational videos about overdose protection. Warren says the machines will not solve the overdose problem but will reduce harm. “That machine is to keep them from getting another and another infection, diseases like HIV and hepatitis.”

Rev. Lloyd Bruce says the machine will raise the profile of the church community. “People will see Sackville United Church as a place that’s trying to respond to issues in the community in helpful and supporting ways,” he says. “There are some folks who are worried that the machine might attract people who are of a questionable character. I think those fears are overblown.”

Bruce adds that he is eager to see more such collaborations with community organizations. “The direction that churches across the country need to be working towards is partnerships with other organizations that are trying to make positive change in their communities.”


Abbas Mehrabian is a recent Broadview intern.

This story first appeared in Broadview’s July/August 2021 issue with the title “New Brunswick church gets harm-reduction vending machine.”

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