Voice of the Food Bank
Those who work at the Calgary Food Bank report the stars often align themselves in support of funding. If you look closely, though, it’s because of the unlimited generosity of individual and corporate Calgarians and the creative think-outside-the-box approach they are taking to support the Food Bank. Calgary Registries’ involvement is one such example. One morning a few years ago, Dennis Howie’s attention was caught by a story in the paper that said the Alberta government was adding a 25 cent deposit fee to milk cartons, resulting in an additional, annual expense of $43,000 for the Calgary Food Bank. (Why the additional expense? The price of milk would go up; the cartons would be given away. The empties, of course, would not be expected to be returned to the Food Bank. Therefore, the Food Bank would not be able to return them to a recycling depot for a refund.)
Coincidentally, that afternoon, Dennis and his wife attended an event at the Food Bank that recognized his parents, who were part of the group of 10 who had founded the Food Bank in 1982. During a tour of the facility, Dennis hatched a plan to help recover that $43,000.
Calgary Registries, thought Dennis, a Registry office owner himself, could help collect the money the Food Bank needed to balance that additional tax by asking their customers for donations at each of the Registry offices. Dennis successfully tested his idea at his own South Trail Registry and then started talking to other Registry offices in town, challenging them to follow in his footsteps. Many responded. When 2010 wound down, Calgary Registries had surpassed the $43,000 mark by a significant margin, raising $59,250.87. The next year they outdid themselves again, collecting $67,451.92, for a two year total of almost $127,000.
Two Registries in particular have been extremely successful in maintaining an ongoing campaign to raise funds, Southland Registry and South Trail Registry. “You need two things to make it work,” says Dennis, “a champion within the organization who is a committed ‘front line’ employee, and all staff members willing to ask a very simple question of each of their clients, ‘Would you like to make a donation to the Food Bank?’ When these come together, incredible results are made possible.”
The question, as simple as it is, does take most Registry employees out of their comfort zone. “It’s a bit daunting for some of us to ask,” says Barb Witcher, the ‘champion’ who works at the South Trail Registry, “but we do it almost every time. We know how much we’re helping, that we’re doing something for the sake of our community.” She says that employees consider how difficult it must be for Food Bank clients to ask for help, and that gives them the courage to do the same.
“Now asking on behalf of the Food Bank is part of our corporate culture,” says Barb. “It’s a group effort. We couldn’t have accomplished what we have done, though, without the incredible generosity and goodwill of our clients. Some even, when asked, have put hundred dollar bills into our collection boxes.”
Robyn Young is the ‘champion’ in the Southland Registry office. She says their community-oriented staff raised a significant amount of money by asking clients if they would like to round up their charges to the next nearest dollar. “We did so because we recognize this could happen to any one of us, as so many people must work from paycheque to paycheque.”
Registry employees have become quite creative in their approach – they’ve organized competitions between cities, between offices and within offices. They’ve held Food Bank blitz days, setting goals and engaging their clients. Barb says, “We try to find ways to attract clients’ attention. The last time we gave out balloons but people wondered what on earth they would do with them! It makes for a fun, healthy environment at work and it’s a great opportunity to wear jeans and a Food Bank t-shirt!” Robyn says, “We actually charge staff a loonie for the opportunity to wear jeans!” The Southland Registry even brushed off their baking skills and hosted bake sales, much to the delight of their customers!
When Dennis talked about food insecurity in Calgary with Registry employees, it had a profound impact, moving some to develop a better understanding of Food Bank clients and the work in which the Food Bank is engaged. Now, those employees are our ambassadors, sharing with customers and staff and posting tidbits of information in their work area.
Through their efforts, the registries raised enough money in 2 years to cover 3 years of milk deposits, and with the Calgary Food Bank’s ability to distribute $5 of food for every $1 donated, that $127,00 eventually provided well over half a million dollars worth of support to low-income Calgarians.
Food Banks Canada is thrilled to announce Target has joined its Canada Retail Food Program and will donate safe quality perishable and non-perishable food to food banks across the country beginning early in 2013. The Calgary Food Bank will be one of the recipients!
Sometimes people make donations to the Calgary Food Bank in honour of the generosity and kindness of others. A large extended family arrived last night with that very intent in mind (and with close to 300 pounds of groceries, including two very large frozen turkeys)!
Each summer, seventeen or eighteen of them spend an entire weekend at their friends’ farm in British Columbia. They are fed and housed and not allowed to share in expenses. When they insist on doing so, the response is always, “You can do something for someone else!”
So they do. This year, in what is the second of what will most likely become an annual event, the Calgary Food Bank was the ‘pay-it-forward’ recipient. Family members divided themselves into two teams, each with a budget and a wish list of most needed items. The winning team would purchase the items closest to budget. There couldn’t have been a better scripted outcome. Each team was $7.00 off the mark, one under and one over! So, there was no clear winner….. except of course, for the Calgary Food Bank, the honoured friends, and family ties and memories!
Mayors Nenshi and Ford share winning words for Calgary and Toronto's food banks (and some trash talk!) prior to the Grey Cup.
- Toronto Mayor Rob Ford accepts Grey Cup bet with his Calgary counterpart Naheed Nenshi (Calgary Sun)
- Calgary Mayor wages weight in food in Grey Cup faceoff with Toronto (thespec.com)
- Rob Ford accepts Calgary Mayor's Grey Cup weight in food wager (Toronto Sun)
- Calgary Mayor Nenshi challenges Toronto Mayor Ford to Grey Cup bet (Globe & Mail)
- Rob Ford accepts Grey Cup bet from Calgary Mayor Nenshi (cbc.ca)
- Mayors bet their weight in food on Grey Cup (Calgary Herald)
Hampers for the Homeless provides two to three days of food for Calgarians with inadequate shelter. Clients access these hampers through our agency partners: the Aboriginal Friendship Centre, The Alex, Alpha House (DOAP Team), Canadian Red Cross, Catholic Charities, CMHA (SOS Program), CUPS, the Drop-In Centre, John Howard Society, Loft Program, Native Network, Salvation Army (Centre of Hope), Streetlight, Woods Homes (Exit Outreach and Forest Lawn Family Support).
Since this time last year we have experienced a 10% increase in demand for these hampers, while seeing an 8% decrease in Emergency Food Hampers. An interesting contrast, and hopeful as it appears that individual demand is decreasing while agency-affiliated demand is increasing. Calgarians are accessing the services they need to address to root causes of a lack of food.
Agency partners use the hampers in different ways, to best accommodate the needs of their clients. Some of them distribute them intact, while others break them up and distribute combinations of different food items.
This year, one agency partner requested an increase in the number of Hampers for the Homeless they were receiving. When asked why they responded:
The Homeless Hampers have been a staple for (our organization) since 2005. …. Food is an essential engagement tool for both our outreach teams. We use it as an ice breaker to connect with clients in the community and it helps us build relationships in a timely manner. For example the team may get a call from a police officer ... who is dealing with someone who is publicly intoxicated. When the team responds, the client is offered a ride to a shelter instead of going with CPS. These types of situations used to be very volatile, but … the team then offers them some food and turns on their favourite radio station, allowing for a safe trip to a shelter. Or when the team looks for people sleeping outside, being able to offer food is very important since most of them will not access shelters. Our team works to help move them into housing but this can take one to two months to sort out; so, in the meantime offering them warm and dry clothes accompanied with food is very important. The Homeless Hampers that the Food Bank provides are a great mix of different kinds of food for those who cannot access a kitchen. Having pop-off lids on soups and easily accessible snacks that can last a while are great items for our clients. Often times this is the only food that they have access to so it is important to keep this option available.
A group of IT/Tech companies challenge each other every Christmas to raise money for the Calgary Food Bank. It's called the YYC Tech Challenge. Their goal this year is to raise $100,000, and we’re going to help them achieve it!
We'll kick off the YYCTech Challenge in our warehouse on Tuesday, December 4 between 7 and 8 am. During that time, a group of volunteers from the participating tech companies will do a 1 hour shift. Angela Knight from CBC will broadcast the event live on-air. We'll finish off by providing tours to those who have not been at the site before. GO TEAMS GO!
Go to www.kraftfoodforfamilies.ca once or every day until the end of December!
For every name the Calgary Food Bank receives online, Kraft will donate 50 cents. You can add your name once a day, every day. A total of $20,000 is available in each region! Once the $20,000 is reached in each region, the food bank with the most names in each region will receive a bonus donation of $5,000 from Kraft! Help Calgary Food Bank be that food bank!
Did you know...
The Food Bank distributes about a dozen gluten-free emergency food hampers every month, to clients with Celiac Disease. And that number continues to rise!
To ensure we can meet the rising demand, the Food Bank is introducing our very first gluten-free food drive at the Calgary Gluten Free Store throughout the month of November.
By making a purchase at the store and dropping it in the donation bin by their front door, you are not only ensuring that low-income Calgarians with Celiac Disease have access to the healthy non-gluten food choices they need, you are also supporting a local small-business owner who has been helping the Food Bank for years! We'd like to return the favour!
The Calgary Gluten Free Store is in the Purified Water Store in the Sunridge Theatre Complex in Calgary's NE. Visit their Facebook page for further information.
The Food Bank has launched a new “food-raising” initiative – the Domino Effect.
The Domino Effect serves two purposes: gathering food for the Food Bank and team-building within organizations.
The idea is simple. Invite employees or group members to bring in food items from the Food Bank’s most-needed list; take a look at what you have; then work together to create a domino-toppling set-up with the items; and finally...knock it all over! Be sure you capture it all on video and share it on our Facebook page. Then gather up the food you used and donate it to the Food Bank. A little fun. A little silliness. A lot of great donations for the Food Bank!
The inaugural Domino Effect event took place at Calgary production company Joe Media, where employees donated hundreds of food items, then had a great time building a domino set-up throughout the Joe Media offices. They shot video of the whole thing, with the help of Solid Green, a Calgary visual effects company. Check out the video here. Then give us a shout if you think this is how you'd like to be part of the change!
Twenty years of feeding Calgarians, one bus at a time
Stuff a Bus, a unique partnership between Calgary Transit and Calgary Co-op, brings food to Calgarians experiencing a temporary need. Every November, Calgary Transit buses are parked outside the front entrances of Calgary Co-op stores across this city. The driver opens the doors, and instead of welcoming passengers, welcomes Co-op customers offering donations of food and money. When the buses are stuffed, each driver begins the journey to the Calgary Food Bank, where the donations are unloaded into the Food Bank’s vast warehouse.
In 2011, about $150,000.00 of food was collected (close to 39,000 pounds) and approximately $69,000.00 in donations were received during the one-day event; enough to feed about 2,900 families of four to five people for a week.
When Stuff a Bus was in its early days, four or five buses were dispatched to Calgary Co-op locations. Twenty years later, there’s a bus at every store. Thirty-one year veteran Calgary Transit driver and relief training officer Ed Chamberlain took over coordinating Transit volunteers 11 years ago. He has made it his mission since then to have enough volunteers to drive the buses, greet Co-op shoppers and load groceries onto the buses at all 21 Calgary Co-op locations.
“It’s never been a problem to get enough people. I need about 120 volunteers for this one-day event, to cover all the shifts and locations. I put the notice out on our Intranet and Transit employees fall over each other to volunteer. We have bus drivers who bring out their families to help,” says Chamberlain.
“For many years now, a gentleman from the Rocky Ridge area goes into his neighborhood Co-op and buys a dozen frozen turkeys and gives them to Stuff a Bus. I’ve seen people coming out with two or three full shopping carts, and donating it all, except for the one cart they take home,” adds Chamberlain. “But someone’s $10.00 means the same as the next guy’s $1,000.00; it’s not the size, it’s the donation that counts.”
Chamberlain recalls a story a Transit volunteer told him a few years ago, “There was a young mom with a small child, and they did not seem that well off, from the amount of groceries in their cart, yet she asked him to go pick up two of the prepackaged Stuff a Bus Food Bank items that Co-op was selling for $10.00 each. They checked out with just a small bag of their own items, but the little boy helped carry the Food Bank bag up to the bus. He was so happy to be helpful. It was so cute to watch. It was nice to see how this young mom and her son were so unselfish and happy to help, despite their own difficult circumstances…..”.
Behind the scenes at Calgary Transit, it takes many hands to make this annual one-day event the success it is. Buses need to be cleaned thoroughly, fueled and given a maintenance check-up. Before the event begins, the buses need to be warmed up at the bus depot, and then shut down, warmed up again and only then do they leave for their designated Co-op location.
“There’s a great amount of work that goes on behind the scenes at Calgary Transit by many of our employees to ensure the annual Stuff a Bus program is a success for people who need assistance,” said Calgary Transit spokesman, Ron Collins. “We are very pleased and proud to be part of this extremely worthy venture.”
As volunteer coordinator, Chamberlain creates a detailed plan that organizes shifts of volunteers at the 21 Co-op locations; but there is a particular element that makes his task more challenging. Calgary Transit bus drivers, like airline pilots, are limited in the amount of time they can legally spend behind the wheel, even in a voluntary role. But bus drivers are only one of the positions Chamberlain must fill. To be sure things run smoothly throughout the day, volunteers are also needed to greet donors and load donations. Compounding all this are the schedules of everyone he recruits! While the event runs for seven hours, some volunteers can only commit to four hours, because, like you and I, weekends are often their only opportunity to spend quality time with family or knock off a pile of chores.
“I grew up seeing my parents struggle to make ends meet, it was tough for them at times. I have a soft spot for people struggling, especially single mothers, and I want to help,” says Chamberlain.
Calgary Co-op Communications Manager Cindy Drummond says, “As a food store, this event makes a lot of sense for us. We are helping Calgarians get their basic needs met and that includes food. It’s really seamless for us, it’s really Calgary Transit’s event. We provide the venue and talk it up to customers ahead of time, and help out by feeding the volunteers. We’re grateful as an organization to be a part of this.”
What has become clear over the years is that many Calgarians wait for this event – this is when they give to the Food Bank. In 2009, a Co-op shopper gave a cheque for $25,000.00 to one of the bus drivers. Since 1999, over $1 million in donations have been made to Stuff a Bus.
Stuff a Bus donations are easy to make - Co-op pre-packages items into small bags called Pre-Packs that sell for $10 each and contain a selection of items the Food Bank guarantees will be placed n each Emergency Food Hamper. Won’t be in town for Stuff a Bus? Specially marked Stuff a Bus boxes are also placed in each store well ahead of the event for early donations of non-perishable items.
Stuff a Bus takes place this year on Saturday, November 3 at all Calgary Co-op stores. As the winter season begins, and seasonal employment slows down, Calgary can see a rise in unemployment. This factor and others can mean a temporary crisis for some Calgarians. This is the time of year when the need for food donations becomes more critical. No one should ever go hungry. In a city with as much abundance as Calgary has, that should go without saying.