October 17th, 2018 ~ Vol. 89 No. 42
Food for thought: The Crowsnest Pass Food Bank Society
Society is about more than just “food”
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Anna Kroupina Photo
Wilma DeLisle (left) and Betty Coderre are two of the Crowsnest Pass Food Bank Society’s volunteers. Pictured above, they are helping get orders ready for clients on Thursday, October 11. The Food Bank currently has 16 volunteers who offer their time.
Pass Herald Reporter
On the afternoon of Thursday, October 10, the Crowsnest Pass Food Bank Society is bustling with activity, serving approximately a dozen families over the two hours that they are open that day.

For one single mother of two high school girls, it was her first time using the services of the food bank after an unpredictable tragedy hit the family.

“My dog was hit by a car at the end of our driveway a couple of weeks ago and the vet bills are ridiculous,” she says. “It’s taking every cent that I can gather up and it’s not leaving any money for food. I'm a single mom, I work hard. We don’t always have a lot of extra, but we can usually get by. This is just an unexpected thing that has cost well over $3,000 and I didn’t have a lot of savings. I just thought this morning that my kids need stuff for school lunches, so I thought I'd swallow my pride and come in. It's wonderful to know that they’re here for those unexpected times.”

Out of the 150 to 200 families that the food bank services each month, her reason is just one of many of why people come to use the local food bank. People in need range from people who have been laid off, the working poor, pensioners and families dealing with medical hardships.
“The whole chain of events is you pay your rent because you need a roof over your head, then you’re going to pay your heat so that you don’t freeze in the winter and everything goes down and the one thing that people leave aside to the bottom of the pile is groceries. It's the way it’s worked since I've been here,” says Desirée Erdmann, coordinator at the Crowsnest Pass Food Bank Society.

But beyond the scene of need in the community is one that is heartwarming and encouraging when you realize that the success of the Crowsnest Pass Food Bank Society is in large part due to the support and partnerships it receives from residents, local businesses, institutions and other non-profits.

Residents donate fresh produce from their gardens. Horace Allen School donated 73 bundles of root vegetables as part of their Farm to School fundraiser. The Veggie Guy donates unsold vegetables from the Crowsnest Community Market. The emergency service institutions donate money from their annual Charity Checkstop. Servus Credit Union donated 100 lbs. of potatoes from their community potato patch.
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These are just some examples showing how the community supports the local food bank, and it’s fundraisers and donations like this that help keep it going and providing an exceptional service level for its clients.

“It's such a cool feeling how this community likes to help out. Everybody's out to really help and try to make life easier for people when they’re going through hardships,” says Erdmann.

Over the last several years, the food bank has also made many internal changes that cut costs and increase efficiency.

Before Erdmann arrived at the food bank in 2011, they distributed pre-stuffed boxes of food arranged by family sizes. The drawback is that not all families eat the same or like the same foods.

“We were noticing things with the odd products that only we would have. Like one time, we had this cranberry granola peanut butter - it was peanut butter with granola and cranberries mixed in, it was kind of weird. We had a whole palette of that shipped to us, so we started seeing it come back to us in donation bins around town,” says Erdmann.
About three years ago, they switched to a client-focused system where families use a checklist to select the foods they want.

“This has been such a positive change for us. We’ve saved so much money by doing this. I always let them know to just take what they like to cook and eat and they’ll check off what they like. Maybe they don’t like brown beans or canned soup, so now they leave it and we can give it to somebody else instead of them throwing it out,” says Erdmann.

As we all become more cognizant of what’s on our plate, the food bank has also made a conscious effort to offer healthier options for clients and choices that fit dietary needs with a gluten-free, peanut-free and diabetic section.
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Apart from common staples that Erdmann always ensures are in stock, there is a chalkboard with changing “extras” that families can choose from. These items are the “nice to haves” that aren’t necessarily essential foods, but sure do make a great treat, things like marshmallows or coffee.

“Everybody's so happy when they come here and we can give them coffee grounds. We don’t always have coffee and it’s not something I purchase for the clients,” says Erdmann.

When people think about the food bank, they likely only think about food items, but the organization offers so much more than just food, playing an important role in the community as a source for household support, offering everything from hygiene products, feminine items, baby formula, diapers, even specialized packages for people who have moved into a new home.

“Nobody thinks about donating that, but there’s so much more to running a household than just those food staples,” says Erdmann. “That’s something I have to put a push on every once in a while, because people don’t really think of donating hygiene items. They think more of canned goods and food stuff.”

Food bank items come from multiple sources, including donations, collaborating with nearby food banks, ordering from suppliers and Food Banks Alberta or purchasing directly from stores. Because they have a network they order from and they buy in bulk, the Food Bank can often stretch a dollar, so while Erdmann is thrilled to receive food donations, monetary donations can go much further.

“I don’t want to sound ungrateful but when people donate monetary donations to the food bank, whether they come in the form of gift cards or cash donations, the food bank itself can stretch that money so much further. I've never put that out to our community because that’s kind of a fine line, but when people ask me, I say write a check and we'll send you a tax receipt because I can use that money and I can stretch that money.
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Heading into the Christmas season, the Food Bank and Family and Community Support Services will soon start prepping for their annual Christmas Hamper drive where they prepare special holiday baskets with everything necessary to have a Christmas Eve turkey dinner and a Christmas Day breakfast. Erdmann also often directs families with children to sign up for the toy hamper program and coats for kids offered by the Crowsnest Pass Women's Resource and Crisis Centre.

It’s all part of a larger effort to make the holidays as full as possible for everyone in the community.

“We all work together. It's like, okay, you have your Christmas dinner and your Christmas morning breakfast, now your kid needs a coat and boots and he needs some gifts. It's a nice circle to make things really come together for families at Christmas,” Erdmann says.

It’s certainly a joyous time of year, but for struggling families, it can also be the most difficult time of year.

“People break down at that time of year in here. You get certain people who, that time of year, they feel like they’re struggling and like they can’t provide for their children,” says Erdmann.

The Crowsnest Pass Food Bank Society is open Monday and Friday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Thursday 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Donations are encouraged to be dropped off during opening hours or placed in donation bins around town. Follow the “CrowsnestPass FoodBank” Facebook page to be informed of specific donation items the food bank is in need of.
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October 17th, 2018 ~ Vol. 89 No. 42
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