WDI's Second Annual Calgary Food Bank Volunteer Event

Calgary Inter-Faith Food Bank hosted volunteers from Western Direct Insurance

As a result of all the volunteer events that the Calgary Inter-Faith Food Bank has sponsored in its 30 years of serving the community, thousands of Canadians have stepped up to the plate and provided time and effort to assist individuals struggling with the cost of food. On December 5th, 11 volunteers from Western Direct Insurance took part in their second annual Food Bank volunteer event to benefit the Calgary Food Bank as well as enable thousands of Calgarians have an enjoyable meal during the holiday.

Prior to the event, Shawna Ogston, Communications and Media Relations Coordinator for the Calgary Inter-Faith Food Bank, spoke about the relationship that the organization's mission and what the hopes were for this year's event.

Q: How is Western Direct Insurance involved with the food bank?

A: Having the team from Western Direct Insurance here to help in the warehouse will make sure that we can create Christmas hampers and get them to individuals during the holiday season. There are so many families in need, and people ask 'Why does that happen in the winter time?'

Well, when you're working on a low income, maybe an hourly wage job, any slight increase in your expenses such as the cost of heating is going to affect your budget, and food is the first thing that people tend to cut. And because we have such a larger volume coming in during the winter time, groups like Western Direct Insurance coming in, creating those hampers or preparing for those hampers or even handing them out will make sure that we can help more and more families.

Q: What foods are usually included in Christmas hampers?

We believe that everyone should have a Christmas dinner with their family, and so that would include things like - depending on availability, of course - extra juice and extra pasta and such because we know that a lot of families are having other families join them and they deserve to sit around the table and have a Christmas feast. We also include a gift card so that they can buy a turkey, ham or chicken, depending on the size of the family. We also include stuffing mixes, canned vegetables and fruit.

Q: How many people were helped during the Christmas season last year?

A: In 2012, we had almost 130,000 people - individuals and families, 41 percent of those were children - receive hampers from the Calgary food bank. We distributed 6,643 Christmas hampers to individuals and families last December, which does not include the 110 agencies we work with. A typical month is between 3,000 and 4,000 hampers.

Q: How is it determined who gets the hampers? Is it on a first-come, first-serve basis?

A: Well, 83 percent of our clients are people who only come to the Calgary Food Bank two or three times in their lifetime, so they're in an emergency situation and they need to put food on their tables. We do go through an intake process where we ask particular questions, such as income, employment, why they are in temporary need of food. Our statistics tell us 83 percent of our clients don't have to come back and aren't chronic users because we connected them with Calgary resources. For example, if a client is unemployed and they're having a hard time finding another job, we try to help them connect with resources in Calgary to help them get out of their temporary emergency situation.

Q: What are the hampers made up of? Are some diet-specific, like for those with diabetes or Celiac disease?

A: They match the Canada food guide, [and] green vegetables are an important part of the Canada food guide. Fresh is better, or frozen, and then canned. So, depending on the donation - and we have a lot of great partnerships with local farmer's markets, for example - there are lots of fresh fruits and vegetables that are put into the hampers.

We guarantee protein items like hamburger, eggs and milk and cheese in every hamper. We can do some specialty hampers based on dietary and religious concerns. So we have some diabetic hampers, celiac hampers and we even have prenatal hampers. We even have family hampers so that if someone is expecting, we put more milk in, or if someone has teenagers, we put more milk in. If they have infants, we'll put some more formula in if they need.

Q: What are the goals of the Calgary Food Bank for this year?

We don't have a financial or poundage goal for the Christmas season; we just want to make sure that we are not turning anyone away and that we can continue to provide a balanced diet in our hampers.

Q: Are individuals the only ones to benefit from services, or can organizations also get involved in other ways?

A: Yes, we work with 110 organizations in town that provide food services to their clients, so drop-in centers, children's after-school programs, some of the senior homes, they can focus on their programming and they don't have to worry about going out and sourcing for food. We are a distribution hub for them.

Q: What are common ways that people volunteer with the food bank?

A: You can volunteer in many capacities here at the Calgary Food Bank.
Volunteers can sort food. All the food that we collect from food drives - whether it be from schools, individuals, or city-wide events, it comes into our warehouse, and we have volunteers sort them into specific categories.

Another way that you can volunteer is in our warehouse assembling our hampers. We also look for volunteers to be on the assembly line to hand the hampers to clients and help them bring it to their vehicle.
We have over 100 volunteers that help us on a daily basis and we could not operate if it wasn't for volunteers.

Q:  How can people get involved?

A: People can contribute either in our warehouse, volunteer at events, donate at local grocery stores, or make monetary contributions online - there are a variety of ways to get involved. Our website is a great resource and has a lot of information about ways to get involved as well www.calgaryfoodbank.com

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