Over a five-day period this season, approximately 250 people walk through the doors of the Powell River Action Centre Food Bank, according to operations manager Savanna Dee. It is a busy place at this time of year and, despite what some might feel would be a difficult and emotional environment to work in, Dee said it never gets her down.
“Some people come in and they burst out crying at having to be here because their situation in life is so dire and they’re forced to come to the food bank,” said Dee. “I’ll take the time to talk to them and try to make them feel better.”
Dee said she joined the organization as a volunteer in April and then was handpicked by Gina Kendrick to be her successor. Kendrick had been the heart and soul of the organization for more than two decades until her passing earlier this year.
“This is the first Christmas for me and I’m actually overwhelmed at the generosity of the community at Christmas time for the food bank and the people in our community who need help,” said Dee.
Those who come to the food bank at this and every time of year are people of every stripe, she said. Some have jobs and are just not making enough for all of their groceries, according to Dee, and are low-income families with children, single mothers, people on disability and old-age pensioners.
December is the food bank’s biggest collection time of the year when the shelves are replenished with donations that will be put away until next year, said Dee. They are well stocked, but there is always need for more, she said.
Dee said although the food bank always appreciates food donations, cash donations are even more useful for the organization.
“Cash is better because when people donate canned goods some people clean out the back of their cupboard and give us food that’s five, 10 or 15 years old,” she said.
There is another benefit to the food bank when people give cash over cans and that is a more efficient use of volunteer resources, according to Dee.
“I need a small army of volunteers to go through every can and box to check the date,” she said. “We’re inevitably left with a lot of boxes of food that are completely unusable.”
Dee said that every food item donated is touched five to seven times by volunteers before it goes into a hamper.
“With money it’s bought, it’s on the shelf and it’s in our storeroom,” she said. “We just buy the cases and cartons and no one has to check dates.”
Sponsored by Coast FM, City Transfer and Safeway, a recent community food bank drive raised cash and food contributions.
According to Coast FM operations manager Kim Wall, the seed for the food bank drive idea came out of a meeting with City Transfer president Donna Stobbart.
“It was hard for me to believe that in a city this size, we would have kids going hungry,” said Wall. “I said to Donna, ‘We should be able to do something together.’”
City Transfer and Safeway became involved and the drive raised $24,000 in cash and $8,000 in food items, according to Wall.
Powell River Action Centre Food Bank is open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of every week. People in need can only take a hamper once a month. For this holiday season, Dee said she was able to put a little extra in each hamper, including stovetop stuffing, pop, candy and a Christmas ham.
For all the work food bank staff and volunteers do through the year, and especially at this time of year, Dee said all they want for Christmas is a delivery van.
“We are doing pickups at the stores,” she said. “We’ve managed to get the money to buy a commercial fridge and freezer and we’re going to do the farm-to-food program. We need to be able to get around and have the space. My little car just isn’t big enough for all of it. A food bank van would be wonderful.”