Submitted by Lawrie Mack, chair of the Columbia Valley Food Bank
The last months have been an unprecedented time for the Columbia Valley Food Bank. Whether spurred on by economic conditions or the higher profile achieved with our new building, in January we prepared more hampers and served more individuals than any month before. The number was then surpassed in February. To trump that, March brought the full-blown arrival of COVID-19 to the valley. It became eminently clear that we would be unable to continue pursuing our established ways of providing food for those in need.
At both the regular and emergency Food Bank board meetings in March, we had to consider whether we could stay open in the face of the demands and dwindling resources. After much serious discussion we opted to continue to pursue our mission and provide food security for the most vulnerable in our community, as long as we had food on our shelves and we could do so without compromising the safety of our clients or volunteers.
Of the food that currently goes into our hampers, about 25 per cent is donated and 75 per cent is purchased locally. As local merchants found their supplies shorted and cut back, so did we. Many of the standard items we gave out were in short supply, and we were forced to cut most hampers back by a third, but still, due to the number of regular, returning and new clients, our shelves emptied rapidly.
On the economic side, our yearly budget for purchasing food now exceeds $100,000. We have been able to continue with only occasional minor deficits due to the great generosity of individuals, businesses and organizations within and beyond the Columbia Valley. We also had the bequest of Albert Cooper, which was invested and provided us with a conservative, safe return. Some of that money was expended on our new facility, and the rate of return on that reinvested has, due to the current crisis, become minimal.
Our regular routines have been restructured in order to cope with COVID-19. Where once our doors were open for clients to come in and browse around the “Help Yourself” and “Dented /Out-of-Date” shelves, they must now wait outside to receive their hampers. Instead of just arriving at the Albert Cooper Building during the regular Tuesday and Thursday hours, we require a phone call (250-342-0850) or email (email@example.com) the day prior to enable us to prepare the hamper and have it ready for delivery. Since cardboard may carry viruses for up to 24 hours, we will be using plastic bags as much as possible (much to our ecological chagrin) and will spray the cardboard boxes we use with bleach prior to handing them out. Such measures ensure only a minimum number of individuals will be in the building, and appropriate social distancing can be maintained for our primarily senior volunteers.
As we move forward, there is hope to counter the gloom. The people of this valley have risen up and done amazing things. Restaurants that were reducing service or shutting down arrived at our doors with vans full of produce, meats and other necessities for us to share. Ones still open offered supplies and prepared meals to distribute. (See photo of some helpers.) Local businesses got together to organize a no-contact Food Drive ranging from Radium to Fairmont. Every day we receive phone calls, emails and messages from people asking how they can help, what is needed, and how to donate cash. Such support encourages us to believe the day will come when a new normalcy will arrive, and we can shake hands and share hugs with all who have helped us get through.