Pictured (left to right) are Beth, Diane, Katie, Julie and Ian of the Cranbrook Food Bank on Friday, Sept. 23, 2022. This team, along with other staff and volunteers, have been working hard to implement a new choice model for clients at the food bank. The new model rolls out on Oct. 24, 2022. (Corey Bullock/Cranbrook Townsman)

Pictured (left to right) are Beth, Diane, Katie, Julie and Ian of the Cranbrook Food Bank on Friday, Sept. 23, 2022. This team, along with other staff and volunteers, have been working hard to implement a new choice model for clients at the food bank. The new model rolls out on Oct. 24, 2022. (Corey Bullock/Cranbrook Townsman)

Cranbrook food bank to roll out new choice model

New model will allow clients to shop the food bank, offering more variety and reducing waste

The Cranbrook Food Bank has seen many a change over the past few years, but their latest update will ensure that clients get the best service and experience.

The food bank is rolling out a new choice model at the end of October, allowing clients to select the food that they take home. They previously worked with a hamper model, which found some clients taking home food that they don’t necessarily need or want.

Katie Orr, Executive Director at the Cranbrook food bank, explained that there are two main reasons for switching from a hamper program to a choice model.

“The first and probably biggest reason for the switch is that it’s a more dignified experience for the clients, which is very important,” Orr said. “For example, a mom can choose the cereal that she knows her kid likes, the choice isn’t being made for her.”

The second reason, Orr says, is it will reduce waste and better inform their purchasing.

“We hear from a lot of clients that they are grateful, but they get things that they don’t always need or perhaps don’t have the means to eat. We want to meet people where they’re at in their life. It’s more impactful if people get the food that they want to eat.”

Allergies and dietary restrictions are also factors that contribute to food waste.

Julie Rose, Operations Manager with the food bank agreed, saying that the choice model is made possible thanks to the food bank’s new and improved location.

“The food bank has been doing amazing work for so many years, but in their previous location (which was a small home) this kind of model wouldn’t have been possible,” she said. “Clients will have more freedom, and more variety this way.”

Rose explained that it won’t be a free-for-all, so to speak, in terms of shopping, but rather allows clients more choice. If a family is allotted four cans of soup, for example, they can choose the type and brand of soup. They can choose the flavour of yogurt, or the type of cereal they get. If they don’t need rice, they don’t have to take any.

Staff and volunteers are currently working on adjustments to the layout of the food bank to make it easier for clients to shop. There will be signage and displays to make it clear where everything is, from meat and produce to pantry items.

“We did an informal survey with clients, and they have all said that they want more fresh food. We are lucky that so many wonderful gardeners have been donating their extra produce this growing season,” said Rose. “We want clients to be able to have fresh food, so we always try to purchase staples like oranges, bananas, potatoes, onions, that kind of thing.”

Volunteers Diane and Ian agree that the new model will be better for everyone.

“Asking for help is hard,” Ian said. “It takes a lot of courage, a lot of strength to ask for help. This new facility and new model will hopefully make it easier for people to ask for that help.”

“We see all walks of life, all kinds of people need a helping hand, whether it’s just once or twice, or for an extended period of time,” Diane said. “If someone needs a helping hand, we are here to help.”

Ian says he is thankful for the appreciation that clients show, and that they are really looking forward to the change.

The new system comes into effect on Monday, October 24 and Orr says that clients have been notified through various means of communication. Those who rely on delivery because they cannot travel to the food bank will still be able to receive hamper deliveries, now with a little more choice as to what goes into their hamper.

From what she’s heard, there’s lots of positive feedback from clients.

“We’re having an open house and barbecue for clients on October 11 from noon to 3p.m., and Mr. Mikes has graciously donated their services and food for the barbecue,” Orr said. “This will give everyone a chance to see how the new model works and we can walk them through the process.”

A team of eight hard-working staff members and volunteers have been at the helm of this change, working to implement it since August. Orr says it has taken a lot of planning and a lot of work and she’s grateful for that.

“As we roll it out, there will obviously be things that might need to change as we go, so client feedback will be really important,” she said.

The Cranbrook food bank has seen an increase in clients, with statistics showing that since this time last year there has been a 38 per cent increase in children, 30 per cent more adults, and a 58 per cent increase in new clients registering.

When asked what the reasoning behind the increase could be, Orr said there are many factors at play.

“We work with all kinds of people, and there are different reasons for why they might come to the food bank. Inflation, for example, has seen the cost of groceries skyrocket. A few months ago we could purchase a box of cheese sticks for $10.99, now they are $13.99.”

A lack of affordable housing also contributes, Orr notes.

“We are seeing people who have never used a food bank before. It could be the difference between paying their utility bill and getting groceries,” Orr said. “Many work full-time, but as the cost of food (and everything) is rising, a new section of people are falling into hard times.”

The Cranbrook food bank helps to feed thousands of people, through direct clients as well as working with other agencies. They are always in need of volunteers to help with myriad tasks.

Orr says that office support, hamper delivery drivers and food prep are some of the current available roles.

“We are proud to be part of a fantastic team of passionate, kind people who will show you the ropes,” Orr said.

As for donations, the food bank always appreciates donations of fresh food and hygiene items. Fresh produce cannot be donated at the grocery store, but it can be dropped off to the food bank on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Other items that are most needed include fruit cups, granola bars, cereal, instant oatmeal, and packaged meals such as Kraft Dinner, Knorr Sidekicks or Hamburger Helper.

“We’re so appreciative of the community support, and our clients,” Rose said. “We are excited for this new model and for our clients to have more variety in the foods they eat.”