From left, volunteers Violet Hepher, Maria Wong and Betty Rainaldi pose for a photo alongside Campbell River Food Bank Manager Debbie Willis in the food bank warehouse on July 25, 2019. Photo by Marissa Tiel/ Campbell River Mirror

TIEL’S TALES: Campbell River Food Bank rolling with the punches

Recent string of attempted break-ins, totalled truck don’t dampen staff, volunteers’ spirits

They say bad things happen in threes. But staff at the Campbell River Food Bank hope their recent string of bad luck has dried up.

Following January’s snow storm, staff and volunteers showed up at work to discover the fence surrounding their Campbellton property had been cut. They started repairs, but those were cut too. Then, their refrigerated truck, which facilitates food pick-ups from community partners was totalled during a freak accident when a tree fell on the cab during its rounds.

“It’s just 1-2-3, 1-2-3,” says Debbie Willis, Campbell River Food Bank’s manager. “How many bad three things in a row, right?”

She knows it’s just the “cost of doing business” but when your business is feeding the community’s vulnerable populations, enough is enough.

Insurance is covering the cost of a replacement truck, but the cost of a rental for one month is about how much their insurance payments on the previous model were for the year.

“Yes, we can cancel the insurance for the previous truck, but we’re going to have to pay it again so we’re still out of pocket,” says Willis. “That’s money that we could have bought eggs or milk or meat or we could have spent it otherwise.”

She called me to discuss the food bank’s recent round of bad luck and when I arrived at the food bank late one morning last week to talk, volunteers were in full operational mode sorting, weighing and organizing food.

It seemed that despite the odds, the food bank would not be stopped.

Even as we talked about the break-ins and their totalled truck, Willis wanted to focus on the good. While frustrating, she says it’s “just the cost of doing business.”

Amazingly, they only missed one day of driving: Monday, as they called around to secure a rental.

After their week, it’s impressive the food bank only missed a single day. The truck that was totalled gets driven seven-days-a-week, picking up from grocers in the community. Willis estimates between 1 and 1.5 tonnes of goods come into the food bank every day.

“So if we don’t pick up, they save it,” she says. “So if it was a week, it wouldn’t have been good. It wouldn’t have been nice.”

Now, not all of it goes directly into their clients’ hands; a lot of it ends up going to farmers as part of the food bank’s food recovery program. But the truck helps keep it out of the landfill.

Willis is worried that when people don’t see the truck, which was recognizable with its branches and food bank logo, they would think they were closed.

“People need to understand that the truck is gone and there’ll be a replacement,” she says. “But in the interim you’re not going to see it.”

Willis estimates that more than 2,000 people access the food bank each month. She knows the numbers of new clients are up recently, but doesn’t know if it’s to do with the logging strike affecting families up and down Vancouver Island.

“They don’t necessarily come in the door and say, ‘I’m a logger, I need help,’” says Willis. “And they don’t have to. They just have to say they need help.”

Entering its eighth month, communities are starting to see the effects.

Willis says someone from Gold River drives down once a month with information for about 10 families. They can’t afford gas anymore.

The food bank doesn’t solicit, so you’re not going to find Willis or the food bank’s dedicated volunteers sitting at Union Hall on a Friday, but they are around to help.

“Let’s face it, a lot of these folks gave us stuff, so now they’re turning around and it’s a huge amount of courage to be able to say please help and they may not have that. They may not be there yet,” she says. “But we want them to understand that there are no judgements. That’s why we’re here. We want them to know that we’re never going to say no and we’ve never going to turn them away.”

Willis thinks the North Island is seeing more of the strike’s impacts now as it trickles down.

“It’s just the loggers and then it’s the repair shops and then it’s gas and then it’s coffee shops and gymnastics club and then it’s the swimming lessons,” she says. “It just keeps going and going and those people are gradually having to cut back because they can’t afford their employees. It’s that trickle-down effect.

“But we just want to make people aware that we’re here.”

Distribution days in Campbell River are the first three Wednesdays of the month from noon to 3 p.m. It’s also open Monday to Friday between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. for smaller handouts like produce, dairy and bread.

The food bank is located in Campbellton at 1393 Marwalk Crescent.

Food Bank