Food banks in Ashcroft, Merritt, and Lillooet are benefiting from $5,000 in donations from Community Futures Thompson Country, which operates WorkBC locations in all three communities. Trish Schachtel — executive director of the South Cariboo Elizabeth Fry Society in Ashcroft — says that they appreciate the generosity and ongoing support of the local WorkBC Centre.
“When agencies like Community Futures think of us without us having to go out and fundraise it’s amazing.”
The E. Fry food bank — which has continued operating throughout the COVID-19 pandemic — has seen a big jump recently in the number of people accessing it, says Schachtel. She adds that they have also been supporting and supplementing food hampers being given out to students at Cache Creek Elementary and Desert Sands Community School.
“We’ve remained open as usual with a drive-thru model, and are just using plastic bags,. We’ve also taken away restrictions like showing proof of residence. People just basically show up, tell us what community they’re from and how many there are in the household, and load up their vehicle.
“We’ve had new people access us, so there’s a definite need. The Equality Project and Soup’s On have also maintained clients and got more.”
However, at a time when the need for the food bank is greater than ever, it has been more and more difficult to get supplies.
“We’ve had to go to different sources, because grocery stores are still limited in what they can bring in. We’ve had difficulty sourcing non-perishables like beans and pasta. [Safety Mart manager] Victor [Paulos] has been great, but he’s been having trouble too for Safety Mart, so we’ve had to outsource about half of our order, which is more costly because we have to pay a delivery fee.
”Victor already pays a delivery fee, so it’s more pricey than what we’d purchase from the grocery store here. We’ve had to hit up Costco when we feel we’ll be a little bit short, and have had to dip into cash reserves. Kudos to Safety Mart; they’ll give us things at sale price even when they’re not on sale anymore, and are trying to do what they can for us, which is great.”
“Community Futures Thompson Country is pleased to lend support to these organizations providing basic food necessities to our most vulnerable populations,” says Deborah Petrovitch, Program Operations Manager for WorkBC Employment Services in the Thompson Nicola Region.
“With COVID-19 continuing to affect employment and income levels, we are acutely aware of food security issues experienced by many of our residents who are impacted by low income limitations. Our local food banks work tirelessly to address these issues and are an immeasurable benefit to our community.”
Schachtel says that in addition to the Community Futures donation, they’ve had support from Food Banks BC, with additional funding from the federal and provincial governments. However, they have also had more food orders, and don’t want to do a food drive right now. They’ve budgeted and set some money aside, and are doing bulk purchases.
“Interior Savings helped us buy tuna and peanut butter from the Union Protein Project, to stockpile for winter. They specifically bulk buy for food banks, and they’re cheap, but 70 cases is the minimum order, so we have to order big. Peanut butter is a staple for a lot of people; it’s a healthy, semi-affordable protein.”
Schachtel says that the board is wondering what summer will look like — “Will we be supporting additional families?” — and is already looking ahead to Christmas, when the bulk of their food and cash donations come in.
“We don’t know what the CP Holiday Train will look like this year. If people have to watch virtually from home we don’t know if there will be the enthusiasm. Last year the schools, Kal Tire, and Dawson Road Group did food drives, and we got 4,000 pounds of food, and we get $5,500 from the Holiday Train, which is two food buys. Because we don’t know what the capacity will be like at Christmas, we’re planning ahead and stockpiling, doing bulk purchases, while we can.
“Everyone is talking about a second wave, so it’s ‘What if?’ How can we keep supporting the community and making sure people are fed?”
The food bank has a fridge, and a deep freeze that was provided by Walmart, but they’re currently looking to purchase a large commercial deep freeze. “Interior Savings has paid for half, and we’re looking for the other half. Deep freezes are hard to come by right now.”
The current deep freeze is overflowing after a local ranching family donated half a cow in the form of pre-packaged, one-pound packages of ground beef before the pandemic. Schachtel says they’re always happy to take donations of fresh fruit and vegetables from people’s gardens as well.
“We have people drop those off all the time, and we really appreciate it. We definitely take produce donations. When we have a surplus we share it with The Equality Project and Soup’s On. We call them and say ‘We have this left over, can you use it?’
“We also take things to the Ashcroft Band. We like to share the love; we use what we can and then share it out. It’s hard times for everyone, and we’re struggling to make sure everyone’s taken care of.”
The food bank is open on the first and third Wednesdays of the month from noon to 2:30 p.m. at 601 Bancroft Street, Ashcroft.