Success with the Cranbrook and Kimberley food pantry program continues, as BC Housing has just approved a new food pantry on one of their properties in Kimberley.
Paul Blais and the MealShelter 365 program have been installing and operating food pantries in the Kimberley and Cranbrook communities for three years.
The new pantry hasn’t been installed yet, but Blais says that the program has been a success since its inception just a few years ago.
Blais says the pantries serve as an accessible food source, especially for those who may not feel comfortable in their situation.
“You know, some people feel embarrassed, they don’t want their neighbours to know, and these pantries are great because you can access them any time; go in the dark,” he said. “This is the first on a property owned by BC housing so we hope that this will create a momentum, create access to more properties across the province. We’d love to see more of them in our communities and across B.C.”
According to the homelessness count conducted in 2020, there are 63 people living on the streets of Cranbrook. In 2018, the count was 29.
So far there are four food pantries in Kimberley, three in Cranbrook and one in Invermere. They are located at the following addresses:
Kimberley: 255 Lindsay Street, on the corner of 308 Avenue and 305 Street (Marysville), 77 Spokane Street and 438-6 Avenue (Townsite).
Cranbrook: 701 King Street #4 on Machett, 111-8th Avenue South (across from the Food Bank), 126-17th Avenue South (access via back lane).
Invermere:1313-10 Street (near the elementary school)
“All of the other pantries are on private property, people who have volunteered and said we can put one on their front property,” Blais said, adding that in Kimberley, the pantries are stocked by the local food bank.
“So the property owners call the food bank when it needs to be filled, and they come fill it up,” Blais explained. “This new one [at Gatehouse Gardens], we will be controlling.”
The premise is similar to that of a free library. The pantries are installed and then filled with non-perishable food items. Whoever needs a meal is welcome to take from the pantry. Others are encouraged to leave donations in the pantries as well. Take what you need, and give what you can.
The food pantries are made from materials that local businesses have donated. Gerry Frederick, who has been working with Blais on the project, says that local sponsors have made the food pantries possible.
“Home Depot and Rona have been very generous and supplied the materials, and Selkirk Signs have helped as well,” explained Frederick. “And of course there are the home owners. We can’t just put these in the park – they have to be on private property.”
Frederick got involved after seeing a post on Facebook.
“I saw a post on Facebook about the pantries and I thought, I can build one of those,” he said with a laugh. “So I contacted Paul, and here we are. Many people have come forward and supported the program since then.”
Blais agrees, saying that the entire operation wouldn’t be possible without the amazing people in Kimberley and Cranbrook.
“Three years ago I ended up on the streets. People really helped me out. People want to help. But there needed to be more,” Blais said. “I started with one free meal a month, and look what that’s turned into.”
Blais now feeds people 365 days a year, operating 24 hours a day. Aside from the pantry programs, Blais runs a pay it forward program in both communities, as well as frozen meals that get delivered to people’s door.
“There is no reason that you can’t find food,” he said.
Some locals have expressed concerns about critters, like bears, finding the food and getting into the pantries, but Blais says this hasn’t been an issue.
“Bylaw has seen the pantries and approved of them. We’ve had no issues with wildlife in either community,” he said. “You know, in Kimberley, the bears are quite active before they go into hibernation. They often are going through people’s garbages, but they haven’t attacked the pantries at all.”
He says that during those few weeks when bears are out and in search of food, he encourages people to reduce the amount of food in the pantries in general.
The same goes for winter time. Cans and glass jars can freeze, so food in boxes and other packaging that won’t expand in the cold is encouraged.
“When it gets really cold, we are sometimes able to set up the pantries like little coolers; we’re able to put frozen meals in there,” Blais said.
Blais is encouraging anyone who wants to volunteer or place a pantry in their yard to contact him through his Facebook page, J Paul Blais, or via telephone at 778-963-0209.
“People have been really good to me. These communities have some amazing people that just want to help,” Blais said. “I wouldn’t be able to do this alone. I just want to pay it forward.”
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