by Deborah Rogers –
My Day Out this month allows me to give back (a little) to my community, and gives a glimpse of a vital not-for-profit service: I’m volunteering at the Food Bank. On the Wednesday morning that I join Executive Director Bev Elder and her team, the Sidney Lions Food Bank at Iroquois Park is a bustling place. At the front counter there are many clients arriving with their shopping bags, and behind-the-scenes there are deliveries, collections and a number of workers busy sorting donations and serving clients.
I’ve been fortunate in my life never to need to use the services provided here, but a surprising number of Saanich Peninsula residents do. Of the 40,000 people who live in its catchment area (the whole Peninsula as far south as Sayward), close to 1,000 people a month have their basic food needs supported by this Food Bank. It is clearly an essential service.
The Food Bank depends on a large roster of volunteers filling many different roles. On the day I visited, there were at least eight volunteers working, as well as Bev. She gave me a quick tour and overview of what they do, then put me to work! I joined Donna and Sam sorting donated cans. It’s a very organized system in the small warehouse space. All food is checked for use-by dates and condition, then sorted by category. People are incredibly generous but sometimes there are items donated that really shouldn’t be. Even canned food has a best before and there were items several years past it!
Next up I was given the task of creating the essential staples bags that each client gets when they visit the Food Bank. Using a pre-determined list, I make up bags with canned soup, fish, tomatoes, vegetables and boxed pasta dinners. Bag after bag go into the huge wheeled bin and then get distributed to the people still streaming through the doors. These are basic, filling foods but I wonder about the nutrition they provide; it’s reassuring then to move to the storefront area and find that these basics are supplemented by a wider range of goods.
What many people might not know is that cash donations to the Food Bank enable Bev to purchase fresh milk and protein items like cheese, meat and fish. Every dollar donated gets turned into $2 to $3 worth of food due to great community connections and the power of buying in bulk. New to the Food Bank are regular deliveries of fresh produce thanks to Thrifty Foods. Items that might otherwise have ended up in landfill due to short expiration dates are now delivered daily to the food bank allowing clients a great choice of fresh salads, fruit and vegetables.
The volunteers I chat with are realistic about the role the Food Bank plays and non-judgmental about the clients who come through their doors. They point out that anyone could find themselves in a position where they suddenly need support: a loss of job, disability or illness can cause a significant change in a family’s circumstances. Sadly many of the regular clients are those families where people are working, but in low-paid jobs, and once accommodation is covered there just isn’t enough money to get them through to the next paycheck.
Ensuring children are well nourished is a priority and additional snacks and lunch items are given to those families. I was humbled when I took a turn at the counter talking to clients about their needs. It takes guts to ask for help and everyone is grateful for the goods they receive. One mother asks about hygiene products for her daughter and I’m reminded of how much I take for granted in my life. I chatted with Rachel, who has needed to use the food bank for support. She mentioned the friendly, welcoming staff, something I see too. Everyone has a smile and I understand why – even in difficult circumstances we come together to help each other, giving what we can, whether food, money or time.
“Hunger has no season,” says Bev, a reminder that while they always welcome the additional donations that come around Christmas time, their shelves will be empty again in January. To find out how you can help, visit www.sidneylionsfoodbank.com.