As demand soars, Revelstoke’s food bank bolsters its efforts
Since the early days of the pandemic in spring 2020, the Revelstoke food bank has greatly ramped up its efforts to meet the demands of residents.
“Everything switched overnight. Demand increased and the way we provided services changed from one day to the next,” says Patti Larson, Food Bank Program Director of the Community Connections Revelstoke Society, which manages the food bank. “Where we were serving 70 to 90 households—140 to 150 people—weekly, that number has tripled to about 40 households daily, with some families coming up to three times per week.”
To ensure an ongoing and adequate food supply to meet this dramatically increasing demand, Community Connections amalgamated the food bank with its food recovery program. In this program, places like grocery stores donate the good-quality food they no longer wish to sell.
“Food recovery is such an important part of our program because it brings in an array of foods, providing people with more choice over what they feed themselves and their families,” says Hannah Whitney, Community Food and Outreach Coordinator.
Also, prior to the amalgamation, the two programs were open in different locations on different days of the week. Since shifting to one location on the same days, it’s been easier for people to access these services. In sum, combining forces and resources “makes it a very robust program,” says Whitney.
To help food banks in the Basin adapt operations and programming in the wake of COVID-19, the Trust provided funding to 32 food banks and 2 lunch programs. In Revelstoke, these funds enabled the food bank to buy food and transition its processes for safety reasons: for example, rather than letting individual users select their own foods, they’re now given prepackaged hampers.
The food bank also moved operations outdoors, under a donated tent, where staff and volunteers sort, clean, package and distribute food. This move, while necessary to meet the increased demand on both programs, posed its own set of challenges, not the least of which was the weather. “First it was the snow and wind, then it was the heat,” Larson says, referring to the summer months.
In addition, “Early on, food purchasing was challenging due to supply issues,” Larson says. Working outside also had unique problems. “There’s the physical effort, transportation from the warehouse, social distancing, storage, and set-up and tear down, which can take up to four hours each day.”
Thankfully, there’s been a tremendous show of community support. The programs consistently receive products from the two grocery stores in town and restaurants have been contributing food since the beginning of the pandemic, “even as they struggle themselves,” says Larson. “Restaurants that closed suddenly donated any food that they knew wouldn’t keep while they were closed, and others hosted fundraisers and donated cash proceeds and gathered food donations for the food bank.”
Now, the two programs draw about a dozen volunteers daily.
Volunteers are essential when it comes to addressing challenges while helping meet the food security needs of the community. Fortunately, enlisting them has not been an issue. Rather, Community Connections has noticed an increase in interest. Before COVID-19, the food recovery program had five volunteers every day and the food bank had 10 to 12. Early on in the pandemic they did lose some volunteers, including seniors and others with health concerns. Now, however, the two programs draw about a dozen volunteers daily. In addition, private donations spiked and, with local fundraisers, the organization raised enough money to buy food for several months. According to Larson, there have been “so many bright spots—the donations! There has been huge support for Community Connections. The people who live here have been amazing!”