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Boundary food bank grows with demand and support

The 2018 flood pushed the food bank into a bigger space and services have grown to fill the void
Lynda Hynes, left, washes vegetables in the Boundary Community Food Bank’s new stainless steel sink, bought through a grant from the Phoenix Foundation. (Photo submitted)

Fourteen cans of beans and fourteen boxes of Kraft Dinner convinced Boundary Community Food Bank inventory coordinator Lynda Hynes that the organization’s model needed to freshen up.

When she got the inventory coordinator volunteer job in 2017, she asked her predecessor how to assemble a hamper. She was told that, based on household size, each hamper went out with a set number of cans of baked beans and a certain number of Kraft Dinner boxes too.

“But how do I know that that’s fair?,” she recalled asking herself. So she experimented. For two weeks, she held off including the prescribed pantry fixtures in the hampers and instead set them out on a table with a handful of other food items. Fourteen days later, she said, nobody had taken any mac and cheese or beans.

Then one day, a landlord came in with the contents of a previous tenant’s pantry. The distinctive portioned bags of flower tipped him off that contents had come from the food bank.

“Lo and behold,” Hynes said, “there were 14 cans of beans and 14 things of Kraft Dinner. We were spending money to let food rot in the back of somebody’s cupboard.”

A two-month trial for a new way of getting desired food onto people’s plates has now stretched on for two years, growing with a host of other initiatives at the Boundary Community Food Bank.

It’s tough to tell whether greater capacity has led to higher numbers of people served or whether a spike in demand has pushed the food bank to adapt and grow (the 1,399 hampers served between January and July 2019 has set a pace that will out-do last year’s total number of 2,119). Regardless, all of the food bank’s moves to grow were necessary, either for health and safety reasons or for the simple fact that to refuse accepting offers of good food could mean denying a client healthy meals. In turn, the institution has become an integral link, connecting growers, vendors and eaters in the Boundary.

When water came in May 2018, volunteers found themselves simultaneously sandbagging around their storefront on Central Avenue and 2nd Street while piling cans higher and higher on the shelves, stacking them on top of shelves and freezers that would soon become buoyant, lilting rafts. There was no option but to move locations.

An early donation to the new building at Donaldson Drive was a deep-freeze full of meat from Buy-Low, where the food would have gone bad in a power outage had it not been for a staff member’s mom who offered both the freezer and the power to store the food to the food bank. Then came the pallets of produce that Hynes stored in her garage until it nearly overflowed. Another shipment came on move-in day in early July 2018, just in time to not overly stretch the Hynes residence’s capacity.

The food bank’s metal shelving that replaced the contaminated wood that got soaked last year now makes the new space feel more like a grocery store than a community service, with essentials like diced tomatoes, peas and corn butting up against feature displays of rice wraps and treats. Where client-volunteer interaction was limited before to hollering numbers and sliding out food kits from the back of the building, now there are card tables, a check-out lane and a simulated grocery store aisle that lets visitors peruse their options.

With new fridges, freezers and space comes more food and more versatility, Hynes said. The next step towards becoming what, for all intents and purposes, will be a well-stocked mini-mart will be when Save-on-Foods begins sending all of their undesired produce – possibly tens of of kilograms a day – to the food bank. The store said that the program is set to go on their end – all that is left is for Food Mesh, a Vancouver-based organization that connects grocery stores with charities and farmers with the aim to divert food from landfills, to set up in Grand Forks. Hynes said that the food that comes to her will be divided into animal feed and good-to-go fruit and vegetables.

“As long as it’s still totally edible, we’ll try to get it out through our system,” Hynes said.

“When you think of how a healthy family eats,” she said, “it’s way less reliant on the canned goods.” But that doesn’t mean that produce is the magical solution for the food bank, Hynes explained.

“[Having fresh produce] is still a real struggle for food banks because we just don’t know how many people are going to get in on a given day,” she said.

But to say no to the Save-on-Foods program would be to refuse good, healthy food for people. So, to help process all the food coming in daily, Hynes has arranged to have community organizations work in the new stainless steel kitchen and take a portion of the back with them. So far, she said, she’s connected with Whispers of Hope, which could use some of the food when they open their community kitchen, and the Boundary Women’s Coalition.

Unappetizing veggies and bread gets handed off as animal feed, supporting local farmers in the process.

The food bank also supports Boundary growers through a new coupon program. This year, the Boundary Community Food Bank has offered 50 households $21 per week to spend at the Grand Forks Farmers’ Market. Over 16 market weeks in the season, that’s an additional $16,800 (funded through provincial and regional district governments) that goes back into the local food chain.

When it came to questions about who would administer the coupon program, Hynes said, any hesitations were moot points.

“I really don’t care,” she said. “We don’t have a choice. We now have [more] people that can have fresh produce all summer.”

In turn, growers like Grand Forks Farms keep the food bank stocked on apples from October through March, while others ensure that there is never a Tuesday that goes by without potatoes available for families that want them.

All of the changes, from the move to distribute produce to the opportunity to actively support the farmers’ market, are part of what Hynes sees as the food bank’s transition into what she calls a “food hub.”

“We’re sort of stretching our mandate,” Hynes said, but as long as the food keeps arriving and people come to take it home for dinner, she’ll be pushing the food bank to say “yes” to the opportunity to entrench itself within the food chain in the Boundary.