A helping hand to those in need: Touring Rossland's Food Bank
Poverty in a small town is a very easy thing to overlook when a pricey ski hill looms over everything or when high tech mountain bikes seem to outnumber the amount of cars whizzing down our streets. However, the bare fact is that Rossland is home to a lot of people who simply cannot make ends meet with their current means, and the price of providing food for themselves becomes difficult combined with the cost of housing and rising utility rates.
This is where the Rossland food bank comes in. Located in the Rotary Health Centre on Columbia Avenue, and sharing half the building with the radio co-op, a group of nine dedicated volunteers spend several hours each week shopping, gathering donations, and maintaining the stores at the three room facility. The space is generously donated by the City of Rossland, who also pays for all the utilities. It’s open once a week, on Tuesdays, from 10 – 12am.
So what’s it like in there? This isn’t the sort of place the curious just stop by to see what’s going on, and I was fortunate enough to get a personal tour from two volunteers, Colleen McQueen and Margaret Knudsgaard, yesterday after the shop had closed.
As mentioned, there are three rooms. One is a general storage room where excess canned and non-perishables are kept. The middle room is the main part of the “shop” where food items are organized and laid out for easy selection. Also available are some toiletries and household items like toothbrushes and dish detergent, and even a bit of pet food, which in this case was donated by Tails. The third room is where perishables are kept. There is a freezer full of bread, which was donated by one of Ferraro’s suppliers, a fridge for dairy and eggs, and a freezer where pre-portioned meat is kept. Packages include 4-packs of sausages, one pound of ground beef, or three chicken legs with thighs. Patrons can have one package of meat per visit.
There is also an “in between” shelf of canned goods that are either close to expiry or within two years of their expiry date (I was told canned goods, as long as they are in good condition and not blown, can be consumed up to two years after expiry). “People are allowed to shop here twice a month,” Colleen McQueen, one of my tour guides, explains. “If they find that they can’t make it just shopping twice a month, they can come in on in between weeks and get bread and shop off the “in between” shelf.”
Additionally, once a month patrons are eligible receive a $10 Ferraro’s voucher if they’re single and a $25 voucher if they have a family, in order to purchase additional items they may need that are not available at the food bank.
Usage of the food bank varies from week to week and depending on the week of the month, but it averages about 10 clients per week. Serving Rossland only, people who use the facility must register the first time they come and they must show proof of permanent residency, such as a rent receipt or utility bill. Patrons must have lived in town for a minimum of two months.
Rossland’s food bank is an independent operation that relies on donations from community members, local businesses, and different service clubs. The Eagles in particular has been very generous, donating $1000 in food last year, and this year they are donating the same amount with an additional $500 cheque. Ferraro’s, in addition to housing the non-perishable community drop-off donation point, donates goods on a regular basis as do other local shops and restaurants. Churches, school groups, organizations like Brownie packs and Pathfinders, are also on the bank’s list of donors. “And even some little kids will have a birthday party and instead of gifts they’ll ask for food,” Colleen tells me. “Bear Country Kitchen has even donated some gourmet stuff,” Margaret adds.
Numbers for 2010 have not been calculated yet, but both Colleen and Margaret agreed that there was a fair increase in usage in 2009. They speculate that this is due to the economy, increase in cost of living, lack of job prospects, and even the slowing down of the development up at Red Mountain, where people in construction and the service industry have been hit particularly hard.
The most impressive aspect of this facility in my eyes was the compassion, sensitivity, respect, and lack of judgement toward the population it serves that Colleen and Margaret put forth for their organization. Multiple times they expressed how extremely important confidentiality is. In fact, when clients register they are notified that none of their identifying information will be shared outside the food bank, except with other food banks.
“A lot of [patrons] feel very embarrassed about having to use [the food bank] the first couple of times, and we just say well right now you need it and down the road when you don’t maybe you can just donate back, so it’s kind of a pay it forward thing,” says Colleen.
On December 11, outside Ferraro’s, Mountain FM from Castlegar will be putting on a food drive fundraiser for Rossland’s food bank, and the same day the Eagles will be presenting the facility with $1000 worth of groceries.
It’s important to note that the need for donations is year-round. Colleen tells me, “One thing we have noticed in the past is that donations to tend to drop off in the spring and summer. We’re not in the limelight as much [then].”
While for many of us Rossland is a great place to live and play, it’s important to actually be who we as a community believe ourselves to be: generous, forward-thinking, and neighbourly. As the Christmas season gets into full swing, and indeed throughout the whole year, whether you’re passing by the Rotary building or shopping at Ferraro’s, please take a moment to give thanks for the great community we live in and consider donating to the food bank.