Tremendous support keeps the local food bank filled

Food for Thought column from the Columbia Valley Food Bank

Question: What’s the difference between a bundle of homegrown carrots and a semi-truck load of canned goods?

Answer: Nothing- both are donated to food banks with the intention of providing healthy food items to those in need. However, in a small town, neighbours may see the need of others firsthand and respond by dropping by their local food bank with produce they have grown, or an armload of groceries to share.

While the goal of food banks in small centres and large cities is the same, there are notable differences. Scale is immediately obvious. For example, in 2016, Columbia Valley Food Bank distributed 921 hampers to 1,696 adults and 800 children. In contrast, Calgary Food Bank supplied 66,000 hampers to assist 170,000 people. These are provided by an organization housed in a 60,000 square foot warehouse where forklifts move huge crates of goods delivered daily by large delivery trucks. The items are then sorted on a long conveyer belt system, and stored in cavernous aisles prior to distribution.

Columbia Valley Food Bank is located in the cramped basement below the old library. Canned goods line the shelves in an 8 x 10 foot room, while a fridge and three freezers serve to store produce and meat. Volunteers pick up food items from local businesses two to three times a week. It is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. and every third Wednesday of the month from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Services are provided by a part-time coordinator, about 30 volunteers and 8 board members. The volunteers, comprised mostly of retirees, order, sort and stock food items, help at fundraising events and clean the premises. During each shift, the coordinator meets with 8-15 clients, after which two volunteers assemble their hampers.

By comparison, the Calgary Food Bank requires 150 volunteers per day to assemble and distribute 250 food orders. Their volunteer base is formed of corporate sponsors, church missionaries, and school groups, as well as individuals. Duties include receiving goods at the loading docks, moving pallets into storage, providing administration services and manning the assembly line to fill the boxes for clients.

Regardless of size, both organizations rely heavily on their volunteers to accomplish their goal.

As well as volunteers, donors are critical to both organizations. The Calgary Food Bank has 434 food industry partners (retailers, producers and transportation). A corporate challenge is issued annually, in addition to a city-wide food drive, resulting in the collection of thousands of dollars and food items. Individual donations and countless other fundraising events assist in meeting the huge demand of the Calgary Food Bank.

Despite the disparity in numbers, proportionally, the Columbia Valley Food Bank holds its own with tremendous support provided by the community. A number of businesses including Valley Foods, Sobeys, Joe’s No Frills, Red Apple, Kicking Horse Coffee, Konig Meats, and Mountainside Market, provide food, support, and fundraising. Local organizations raise funds through events such as The Canada Day parade, the Home Hardware BBQ, The Radium Show and Shine, Copper Point Golf’s Feed the Town and Rocky River Grill’s Feed the Valley, Horsethief Creek Pub’s Give Back Sundays, Kootenay Savings and Credit Union, and Eagle Ranch’s Movie nights, Fairmont Hot Springs Resort, Windermere Lions, and the RCMP’s Cram the Cruiser. So many others contribute cash, food, and their time, including the gardener who dropped off the bundle of fresh-picked carrots.

Ultimately, the similarities are most important- the generosity of donors and the gratitude and appreciation shown by the individuals and families who receive the support of our food banks and the communities who support them.

Our volunteer acknowledgement for this month goes to Greg Scott, who in addition to putting hampers together, also sorts and shelves, works the fundraising events, and packages the pet food.

See you at the Rocky River Grill for Feed the Valley on Monday Oct. 9th from 2 until 8 p.m.

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