Deb Billwiller | Boundary Community Food Bank
Hunger matters, and in the five years I’ve been writing this column we’ve seen hunger matter to more and more people in our communities. If I look back even further, the increase in food bank usage is staggering.
I’ve been an active volunteer and board member with the Boundary Community Food Bank for almost 15 years and there have been uncountable changes over those years. For me, the biggest change is happening soon, as this is the last column I’ll be writing on hunger matters. I have experienced much personal growth in my time at the food bank, and have worked with the most awesome group of people, but health and family issues need to be a priority. They say you should leave a job while you still love it, and while this hasn’t been a job for me, it’s still the right time for me to go.
When I became involved, we were located in a small facility on 4th Street. The waiting room was small and dark, the intake office offered little to no privacy to our clients, the storage areas were crowded and spread out. That year, 2005, we provided 1,486 pre-packed hampers to our clients. We were open four hours each Tuesday, except in July and August.
In the years that followed we moved twice, each time to larger and nicer facilities. We stopped closing over the lunch hour, and went to opening once in each of July and August, then every second week those months for several years. Now, July and August are treated no differently than any other month except with a greater variety of fresh produce thanks to the many growers in our area. We also experimented with evening openings, and, during the first 2 months post-flood, we opened twice a week.
We went to a Choice Matters; Self-Serve program, in which our clients can select what food or toiletries they wish, with limits in different categories and on certain items. The number of items they can choose is based on the size of their household. We’ve also increased the amount of produce and protein available and worked hard to increase the nutritional value of what we have available. We couldn’t have done any of this without you! Your donations are what keep us afloat. They allow us to pay our rent and utilities, buy the needed food items that aren’t donated, and maintain a safe and comfortable place for our volunteers (and we are all volunteers) to do their jobs and our clients to feel safe and accepted.
Speaking of keeping us afloat – like many of you, our latest move was precipitated by last year’s flood. We lost tens of thousands of dollars of equipment, furniture and food stuffs, but we persevered, thanks in part to large donations from a number of businesses and organizations but also due to the grit and determination of our board members and other volunteers. We spent almost two months in borrowed, shared space, while managing to not miss a single opening!
We’ve created numerous partnerships over the years, trading food, information and training opportunities throughout the Boundary. And still, our numbers continue to climb.
Previously, I mentioned the 1,486 hampers distributed in 2005, fast forward to 2018 and we provided 2,119 hampers, a slight drop from 2017. In the first six months of 2019, we have already distributed 1,399 hampers. A former board member used to talk about us as the “fastest growing business in town” and I’m sorry to say he may be correct.
We are very blessed to be here in the Boundary, in what is surely the most generous region in Canada. No matter how much the need increases, donations seem to keep pace. I’m proud to be able to say that we have never closed our doors, nor shortened our hours, due to a lack of food.
We have the best volunteers, compassionate and caring, who donate an average total of 455 hours per month, but certainly we can use more to lessen the work load on those we have. We have a wonderful assortment of clients, so many of whom are a joy to work with. I’ve especially enjoyed helping the average 125 children and 49 seniors every month. And we have a very hard-working, forward-thinking board of directors, but again, we do have openings there as well.
Our AGM is on July 11th, I hope you’ll join us. I know I’m leaving the food bank in great hands as I say farewell to our board and volunteers, our clients, our donors and our readers. It’s been a fantastic time and, going forward, I hope we all continue to recognize how very much Hunger Matters.