Food banks in Kamloops, Okanagan bursting with food heading into Christmas | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Food banks in Kamloops, Okanagan bursting with food heading into Christmas

Image Credit: Submitted/Kamloops Food Bank
November 24, 2020 - 7:00 AM

Fraser Campbell did what anyone involved with food banks would love to do when faced with an unexpected truckload of chicken wings.

He went out and rented warehouse space to store them until they could be distributed through the Central Okanagan Food Bank, of which he is chair of the board of directors.

“I’ll never say no to food,” he told iNFOnews.ca.

His food bank, like others in the Interior, is in the enviable position of being flush with food and money as the COVID-19 pandemic heads towards Christmas.

“This is an unbelievably bizarre time with the amount of stuff coming in,” Campbell said. “Now the egg board is shipping us individually wrapped hard boiled eggs because, with all the restaurants that are closed or underutilized, there’s a massive surplus of eggs, and chicken wings. I got an entire 53-footer of chicken wings because the bars just aren’t buying them. The rest of the chickens are being used but the drumettes are not.”

While it’s good news heading into Christmas, there are real concerns about what may be coming in the new year.

“For us, at this point in time, we have the food and we have the funds to maintain service at the levels we have been,” Bernadette Siracky, the executive director of the Kamloops Food Bank said. “The need is going to be there next year. We don’t know what the donor profile is going to look like. People don’t have money to donate like normal. We have to act as if we’re getting nothing next year.”

Her food bank originated the Food Share program where they pick up fresh produce, that has reached its expiry date, from local grocery stores and distribute it to 7,000 clients along with nine other food banks in the region.

When COVID-19 hit last spring, that supply dried up and, for the first time, they ran out of food. But, that was a momentary glitch that was followed by a decline in client need and special funding from the federal government.

“For the very first time, we were recognized by the province as essential services,” Siracky said. “Everyone knows we exist but, sometimes, we’re slightly ignored by the government.”

Food Banks Canada received $52 million out of a $100 million grant to food supply agencies. Of that, $6.7 million went to B.C. food banks. Almost $400,000 went to food banks in Kelowna, Kamloops, Penticton and Vernon.

At the same time, as restaurants closed, there was an oversupply of dairy and poultry that producers donated to food banks.

“Our clients were so delighted,” Siracky said. “You should have seen the tears in some people’s eyes with just the amount of product. We were so happy to give it out and they were so happy to receive it. But it shifted when the restaurants opened again.”

They’re not getting the food donations they were earlier in the pandemic, although their food recovery program is back to normal as grocery stores have continued to operate.

Client demand, on the other hand, after an initial spike actually went down as financial aid programs kicked in.

On top of that, Food Banks Canada boosted its normal fundraising goal from $20 million a year to $150 million this year. So far they’ve brought in $120 million, which includes the federal contribution.

Another federal grant is on its way. That’s likely to be distributed through Food Banks Canada as a grants program rather than a per capita contribution, Kirstin Beardsley, Chief Network Services Officer for Food Banks Canada told iNFOnews.ca.

All of which has contributed to well stocked shelves.

“The community has been so good to us,” Cameron said. “We have, between provincial and federal funds, I think we have between $200 to $300,000 that was given to us in June that we haven’t actually been able to spend yet because they also sent us 60-odd skids of prebuilt hampers.”

His Central Okanagan Food Bank is encouraging clients to get food so the money they save at the grocery store can be used to pay for rent or utilities that may have been deferred.

The question going forward is whether there will be enough money and food next year.

Food banks apply for provincial gaming grants each year. That money is flowing into their bank accounts this year but, since the casinos have been closed for most of the year in B.C., it’s unclear how much, if any, money will be available next year.

Quite simply, just as COVID-19 has created a totally unexpected year for food banks in 2020, the future is equally unpredictable.

Turning to online fundraising is not generating as many contributions as in the past, Siracky said.

She received about $90,000 in federal funds but costs have also gone up. Personal protective equipment had to be purchased and, given the need to safe distance and the age of many volunteers, fewer volunteers are working in the Kamloops Food Bank so two full time staff had to be added.

Her total budget is more than $900,000 as the Kamloops Food Bank provides $8 million worth of food each year.

For Cameron, the surplus of food comes with costs as well, such as the need to rent more warehouse space.

Adding to the unpredictability is the fact that the client base is shifting.

“What I’m hearing from food banks is that a lot of the folks they’re seeing are folks who never relied on the food bank system before,” Beardsley said. “They were at work, they had an income. Over the past few months the incomes have left, savings have left, bills are now due.”

As the pandemic continues and support programs end, the spike in demand that food banks expected earlier on may still hit them.

“I don’t know what to expect next year,” Siracky said. “We have to take very good financial care and be really strong stewards of the donations that have been gifted to us. We can’t close. People depend on us for food.”


To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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