Unless new sources of funding are found, this could be the last year that Clearwater and District Food Bank distributes Christmas Hampers.
That was the grim news delivered to the Times recently by food bank chair Heather Stanley and treasurer Patrick Stanley.
“Things are just snowballing,” said Heather Stanley. “We’re seeing more seniors coming in, more seasonal employees who have lost out due to changes in EI, more people on disability whose pensions aren’t keeping up with the cost-of-living. We can’t expect the community to keep paying more.”
A bigger clientele means the food bank needed bigger premises, which in turn means more rent – even though their landlord is giving them a “super deal”, they said.
Total budget for the food bank this year will be about $40,000, an increase of about $10,000 over last year.
Their bill at Safety Mart is about $23,000 per year, plus they spend about another $5,000 buying meat from Rainer’s in Darfield. Both local businesses go out of their way to help, the food bank representatives said, but they can only do so much.
Other expenses include rent, insurance, and general operating costs.
As members of Food Banks Canada, they take part in the national food sharing system.
Unfortunately, the food they receive nationally is sometimes of uneven quality. A recent shipment of baby food, for example, was all stale-dated and had to be discarded.
Sometimes they receive too much of one item and so have to make a trip to Kamloops to trade for other items with the food bank there.
Gleaning from local gardens is an important source of produce in season.
Food bank volunteers also spend a lot of time canning and preserving the fruits and vegetables donated.
As of the end of October, the food bank had given out about 30 more of their regular food hampers than they gave out during all of last year.
One result has been they’ve been reducing the amount of food in each hamper – especially the higher cost items such as meat and fish.
“Our mandate is to feed the hungry,” said Heather Stanley. “We’ve never turned people away but it’s getting to that point. How do you decide who is going to get fed and who won’t?”
“The majority of the people we see are not just sitting on their duffs and expecting a handout,” she added.
Everyone who works at the food banks is an unpaid volunteer, the Stanleys emphasized.
Writing grant proposals is not something that comes easily to them, and some application forms are extremely complex.
Now Christmas is coming up.
“A lot of people manage through the rest of the year, then run short at Christmas,” said Patrick Stanley. “There are a lot of extra costs at this time of year: heat, gas, school, and so on.”
A couple of years ago, when the food bank handed out 100 hampers at Christmas, they thought they must have hit a plateau.
No such luck.
This year they expect they will hand out more than 120 Christmas hampers.
The cost of putting those hampers together could leave the food bank with insufficient funds to continue its work next year.
The annual C-Me Live concert to support the food bank will be held Sunday, Dec. 8 at the Wells Gray Inn, starting at 6 p.m.
Christmas hampers will be prepared at Raft River School on Friday afternoon, Dec. 20. Pickup will be at the school on Saturday morning, Dec. 21.