City council took the unusual step this week of giving the Campbell River Food Bank exactly what it was asking for.
The food bank, which last year on average served 2,150 people each month, was looking for $21,000 from the city for a brand-new cold room to accommodate extra donations the society is receiving from local grocery stores.
Council, at its Monday meeting, agreed to give the food bank $20,000 – more or less the entire amount it was asking for – even though, as Coun. Charlie Cornfield reminded council, that’s not the usual protocol.
Cornfield said typically council will provide matching funds or at the very least, additional funds to top up seed money which the organization typically builds up on its own or with help from other grants.
“I get a little concerned about that (providing the full amount) when I think there is outside funding available or at least they should be asking others,” Cornfield said. “I do support the program, I’m not sure I support it to this extent.”
But Mayor Andy Adams said the food bank falls under the city’s strategic vision that council ‘understands that our community is strengthened through diversity and our city is defined by how it treats its most vulnerable.’
He said the food bank “hits that mark.”
Cornfield agreed but said providing full funding still went against council’s usual practise.
“They do a wonderful job, no doubt about it at all,” Cornfield said. “There’s lots of worthwhile endeavours. I think of the homeless, the most vulnerable sector. We didn’t fund 100 per cent of the homeless shelter. We just haven’t done that.”
The food bank went to council asking for help in order to purchase the cold room and eliminate some of the food bank’s energy costs.
Jana Watt, the food bank’s secretary, said the cold room would reduce energy costs by 30 per cent because the food bank would no longer need its 13 chest freezers, walk-in freezer, upright freezer, or two commercial coolers.
The other piece is that the food bank needs a larger storage space to accommodate all of the extra donations the food bank is receiving thanks to a Memorandum of Understanding with Superstore.
Under the agreement, Superstore is providing the food bank with any unsalable produce, dairy, meat and bakery items.
“All of a sudden all of the grocery stores, Superstore and others in Campbell River are coming online, instead of throwing out their food like they used to, now they have decided they’re going to give us produce, meat, bakery – this has never happened before and all of a sudden we’re getting all this food and we don’t have room to accommodate it,” Watt said. “We have tons of freezers but our energy expenses are extremely high.”
And while the donations are piling up, the food bank isn’t keeping its good fortune to itself. The society has been passing along some of its donations to other charitable organizations such as the Salvation Army for its soup kitchen, St. Vincent de Paul which serves meals to the homeless out of Radiant Life Church, as well as other churches and agencies.
“We’re spreading it around, it’s a very good situation for everyone in this town,” Watt said.
The food bank itself distributes non-perishable items the first three Wednesdays of the month and soup, buns, dairy and produce on Mondays and Fridays out of its Marwalk Crescent facility.
Clients include single parents, low-income families, seniors, people on disability and social assistance, people looking after parents and grandparents, and grandparents looking after kids and grandchildren, according to Debbie Willis, food bank manager.
A total of 32 per cent of the food bank clientele are children under the age of 19.
Coun. Larry Samson said it was the least council could do, to come up with the money to support the cold room which in turn allows the food bank to provide its clients, and particularly children, with healthy, nourishing food like produce.
“We’re seeing both our mines go down, we’re seeing different families working in Alberta having to come home, we’re seeing different hardships,” Samson said. “So I think this is one of the ways we as a council, and as taxpayers, can help support these families that are going through this tough time right now. It is a lot of money but I think it’s money well spent that will benefit the whole community.”
The $20,000 will come from council’s contingency account which is set aside for unforeseen costs and to help council fulfil financial requests from organizations throughout the year.