For many, a food bank can be the only gateway between starving in the street and feeling human again. But what happens when you’ve reached the peak of that joie de vivre and the cheques simply don’t come in anymore?
Engines shudder and jolt to a clunking stop. The lights go dark and the heater goes dead cold. Suddenly, the fridge looks uncomfortably spacious. The fight for survival really begins.
Life would certainly be bliss if such scenarios were mere fantasy, but for the volunteer folks at the Sooke Food Bank, these are real stories that walk in through their door every single day; from a homeless teenager who hasn’t had anything reasonable or warm to eat in months, or a working father of two who just cannot make the usual ends meet anymore.
“All the working people who were just making it with their finances used to be a lot of our donators. Now, they are our clients,” said Sooke Food Bank secretary Kim Metztger, who added that around this time last year, the food bank gave out 69 hampers. Last week, which was the food bank’s same second Thursday of March, they gave out 111 hampers.
“Our numbers are jumping every month,” notes Metztger, noting that the Sooke Food Bank’s client numbers have inflated by 22 per cent so far this year; and it can take the slightest thing to turn the tide for anyone.
“When the hydro bills went up, we saw more people coming in; people with jobs and families who were embarrassed to even be there,” she said. “Our senior population is up as far as coming to the food bank as well; again, people who used to donate and can’t afford to anymore, whether a spouse died, or they’ve had to move in to a special care facility.”
Metztger pointed out that the three-day supply of food hampers per month doesn’t change, however if there were more funds, those coming in at the end of the day would receive an equal amount of food as the ones arriving in the morning. But it doesn’t always go that way.
“We want them to come in once a month, but we’re never going to turn someone away if they come again and they’re hungry. We’re going to try and help them however we can,” she said. “We want to be consistent and know that we’re not going to run out of food. Because that’s scary.”
In 2014, there were 5140 adults, 2661 children, and a total of 3251 hampers handed out at the Sooke Food Bank, with support and effort being split between 6 – 20 volunteers. Local businesses support by the bulk as well, which is also a big help.
“We buy stuff from the local food marts all the time; they give us really good discounts. Shoppers Drug Mart will donate lots soap and shampoo every once in a while too. We try to have dish soap, because you can use it to clean a lot of things with it,” she said.
The whole operation runs year-round at the Sooke Community Hall under management of the Sooke Community Association, but like everything in this world, nothing is free. Between food, transportation, insurance, administration, phone/web access and maintenance, the total for the Sooke Food Bank’s service costs in 2014 was $114,733.55 – all of which was donated from the community.
But between all the kindness of countless (and some nameless) volunteers, it still remains very difficult to keep up with demand, says Metztger.
“We need money, we need cereal, soup, we need lots of stuff. I think most of all we need people to open up their eyes and just look at their neighbours; don’t assume that everything is okay in that house, because we have numbers to show you that it’s not okay,” she said.
Among the volunteers last Thursday, March 19, were Lindsay Drabitt and Gemini Rogers, both aged 11, who were there from the First Sooke Girl Guides. They were doing this as a Lady Baden-Powell challenge.
“It’s for a good cause… people are starving and they need to eat,” said Rogers as she was doing the count-up of all the stuff that came in that day. Drabitt was right behind her, just about to put a giant case of soup in one of the shelves. “We’re doing this because it is a good community project and because a lot of people rely on the food bank,” Drabitt said.