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Managing generosity at the food bank

Manager Debbie Willis and assistant manager George Gunville take their turn on the food bank production line. - Brian Kieran/The Mirror
Manager Debbie Willis and assistant manager George Gunville take their turn on the food bank production line.
— image credit: Brian Kieran/The Mirror

The new manager of the Campbell River Food Bank, Debbie Willis, says her biggest challenge is “managing the generosity of the community.”

And, that generosity reaches a fever pitch in the weeks ahead of Christmas ... that time of year when need is felt most acutely and the spirit of sharing seems boundless.

Fortunately, individuals and businesses in Campbell River have adopted the food bank as the city’s cause celebre. Willis says a lot of the time the community’s largesse comes out of the blue. “This past week there have been four or five events where we received food or cash. A group of teens from Timberline Secondary came in with about $300 worth of food items and cash. We have a man who just comes in and brings us soup and says he’s going to do a drive in his neighbourhood. They don’t even tell us in advance.”

Former Campbell River mayor Lynn Nash, president of the Food Bank Society, says the operation has the dubious reputation of being one of the best small business operations in the city. “I am so happy this has become the charity of choice in the city ... I hate begging,” he says.

The food bank is a million dollar a year operation with 30 volunteers and a client base that is as high as 1,800 people a month. Individual support comes from lower and middle income individuals, Nash says. Of course, the heavy lifting still comes from the corporate community like the grocery stores that deliver dozens of pallets of food and other regular contributors like Marine Harvest, Quinsam Coal and Mount Washington.

Assistant manager George Gunville, a retired public servant, says the logistics of giving are overwhelming ... “there are many cogs in this wheel.”

Willis says it all means “we never have to turn anyone away.” There is a core group, she says, whose need never goes away. “There are people who live by the river and the ocean, people who live in the bush and camp and live in their cars. There’s also the single working mom with four teenagers that cost a lot to feed.  It’s just anybody. We just don’t judge.”

Last December the measure of the community’s generosity was three 53-foot trailers filled to brimming with food in less than three weeks. The Van-Kam Freightways trailers will be at Save-On-Foods again this December and the River radio station will be helping promote the drive as usual.

Willis says the items most needed include: peanut butter, cereal, juice boxes, canned fruit, Kraft Dinner, rice and lunch snacks.

“Don’t forget coffee,” Gunville adds.

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