By David F. Rooney
At some level Patti Larson probably wishes the Community Connections Food Bank didn’t have to exist. It is, after all, evidence of human hunger and suffering in our community. But on the other hand, its 10 years of steady, incremental successes are a tribute to Revelstokians’ innate compassion and the dedication of the volunteers and individual donors and businesses that support it.
And that, by itself, is cause for the celebration she is planning for November 18 in the Begbie Room at the Regent Inn between 4 and 7 pm.
“In the last 10 years we’ve had remarkable community support,” Larson said in an interview Tuesday morning.
That’s something of an understatement. There are probably very, very few people in town who do not, in one way or another, actively support the Food Bank. School children, parents, seniors and single people across the city donate food and cash, purchase $2 coupons at Coopers and Southside and give toys to its Christmas Hamper program.
“The business community has been very, very supportive,” she said. “I can only think of one or two businesses that do not support us. The service organizations and clubs in particular have been very, very generous.”
That support comes in the form of money, food drives and services rendered. Here are just a couple of examples. The 35 kids who participated in the Trick or Eat Campaign organized by Krista Carnegie this Halloween collected an astonishing 2,433 lbs. of non-perishable foods. “I couldn’t believe her drive and her energy,” Larson said. “I was so impressed.” And then there was last year’s Christmas Hamper Program. Generous groups, businesses and individuals donated more than $37,000 in cash to the Food Bank — that’s more than 30 per cent of the roughly $100,000 it takes to run the program each year.
And for all of that Larson is grateful. Hence the celebration on November 18.
Getting the Food Bank established back in 2000 took some doing. Larson said a group of women — Jane McNab, Nelli Richardson, Maureen Waddell — connected with various social service agencies recognized the need for a Food Bank when it became apparent that entire families were in economic distress.
As she spoke in her cheerful office at Community Connections, Larson pored over the meticulous records she has kept since the Food Bank was established in October 2000.
“Our very first distribution we gave out 51 hampers for 105 people, including 39 children,” she said.
For the next three years the Food Bank distributed food on a monthly basis. But hunger continued to stalk local families and by 2003, the agency instituted a weekly bread and milk distribution and, in 2007, it began “a full-on weekly” Friday morning food distributions.
“Now if we fast-forward to 2010 we helped 104 households a week or 714 people over the course of a month, including 188 kids,” Larson said. “The demographics have really changed. In the beginning just about everyone we served was on income-assistance. But now, it’s very different. It has changed to seniors, disabled people, single people and the working poor — families where mom and dad both work but can’t earn enough to feed their children nutritious food. Trying to feed your family nutritious meals is very expensive.”
Discovering that the level of poverty in your community is rising can be disconcerting, but Revelstoke responded well, although it took a few years before everyone realized that supporting it was not something you did at Christmas. Larson had always been aware of that but, despite her frequent pleas for assistance through the media, she wasn’t sure that everyone else did, too.
“I think it came home to me that people really did understand one year when the Holiday Train was here and Mark McKee — he was mayor at the time — stood up and said: ‘Don’t forget, you can donate to the Food Bank all year long,'” she recalled.
And, yes, we can and should support the Food Bank all year, every year. It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s tangible proof that we are the compassionate and caring community we say we are.