Step through the doors of the Cranbrook Food Bank at 1 p.m. on a Monday, Wednesday or Friday and you’ll find the little house bustling with activity.
On the porch, pallets of bread wait to be picked through. Inside, front desk staff assign numbers to hamper recipients, who line up to collect a week’s supply of food. Behind the desk, more than a dozen volunteers dash here and there, weighing donations, packing canned goods, washing produce, and separating meat.
It’s a finely tuned routine, and around 50 volunteers pitch in to create about 400 hampers every month.
The Cranbrook Food Bank has been helping residents who are struggling to make ends meet for more than 30 years.
Anyone who needs a hamper can ask for a hamper once a month, and when they pick it up they will find a week’s worth of food for every member of their family.
“The idea is that we are helping them with food for a week out of the month to help stretch their budget,” explained manager Jackie Jensen, herself a Food Bank volunteer of 10 years.
In August, for example, the Food Bank gave out 27,000 pounds of food in 380 hampers to feed 778 people. Of those 778 people, 306 were children and 87 were single parent families.
It’s a huge undertaking for a 100 per cent volunteer run organization.
The Food Bank is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
The Townsman visited on a “quiet” Friday where 18 hampers were given out. An average day will see between 30 and 35 hampers picked up.
The day starts at 9:30 a.m. when delivery drivers visit the Food Bank’s new 4,000 square foot warehouse in Industrial Park. This is where big deliveries from out of town will come because there is much more space. Also, many big department stores can claim damaged goods on their insurance if they are donated to the Food Bank. These deliveries will also come to the warehouse.
At the warehouse each morning, drivers will pick up non-perishables – canned goods, cereal, drinks, rice and so on. Then they drop it back to the Food Bank headquarters on 8th Avenue South downtown, where volunteers are ready to weigh, sort and stack the items.
Drivers will also visit Safeway, Save On Foods, Little Caesar’s and Tim Hortons, which all donate every day the Food Bank is open. The drivers will stop at Walmart, Superstore and Giant Tiger, which have donation bins. Sometimes groups that have organized a donation drive will ask for the goods to be picked up, too.
Clients can call in or drop in between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. on the day they need a hamper to place their order. Front desk volunteers answer the call and take down important details, like the number of people the hamper is for, any dietary needs such as a diabetic or gluten free diet, and whether the client is in a car or on foot. Each client is assigned a hamper number to protect their privacy and a time to come back and pick up their food. Pick-ups are done in 15-minute intervals starting at 12:15 p.m. and ending at 2 p.m., so it doesn’t get congested all at once.
Behind the scenes, volunteers take the deliveries and package them into individual servings. For instance, each person receives two pounds of potatoes.
Potatoes are one of the few things the Food Bank is rarely donated, along with milk, eggs and butter. The organization also has to buy meat quite often, although during hunting season they are sometimes donated wild game, which is prepared at Rick’s Fine Meats.
When a client comes to pick up their hamper, they can choose the type of bread they would like off the porch, then come inside and choose two toiletry and miscellaneous items. Then they visit the pick-up window and hand over their hamper number.
Inside, volunteers are placed at three different stations: produce, “sweets and meats”, and shopping. Each station refers to the list of hamper requests for the day and prepares food to meet those needs. Runners collect from each station, weigh each outgoing hamper, and deliver it to a separate room, behind the pick-up counter. A waiting volunteer checks the hamper number, finds the bags or boxes with the corresponding number, and gives them out.
From November 21 to December 21, when the Food Bank closes for the holiday, each hamper recipient also receives a ham (for singles) and a turkey (for families). They are told to come back on a certain day in December when the Christmas meats will be available. While many of the turkeys will be donated by the community, the hams are usually purchased by the Food Bank using cash donations.
In 2010, for example, the Food Bank gave out 190 hams and 198 turkeys.
Things start to wind down in the Food Bank about 2:30 p.m., when the day’s hampers have been given out. After a quick clean up, volunteers head out for the day, having helped dozens of families keep their bellies full for another week.
To donate to the Cranbrook Food Bank, call 250-426-7664 or visit 104 – 8th Avenue South.