If some serious help does not come soon for the Taber Food Bank, it is in real danger of having to shut its doors for an organization that helps many people in need.
“Demand for the food bank is going up. We service about 350 clients per month and we are handing out approximately 180 hampers per month,” said Vicki Koersen, chairman of the Taber Food Bank Society.
In May, 181 hampers were given out. Of the 181 hampers, 57 were in the M.D. of Taber and 22 of those homes needed to find rides to pick up their hampers. There were 297 adults and 154 children who were assisted by hampers in May.
The treasurer’s report for the Taber Food Bank Society’s June board meeting paints a bleak picture noting, “income has been down considerably the first few months of 2014. This combined with increased grocery costs of about 30 per cent have resulted in a deficit of approximately $25,000 this year thus far. This compares to an $11,000 deficit this time last year. At this present rate, the food bank is in dire need of major donations.”
Part of the problem the local food bank has had, according to board members, is the misconceptions some of those in the community have of the organization. There are strict guidelines patrons of the foodbank must adhere to, to be eligible for its services.
“We do have a form that is regimented by Food Banks Canada. It is a form you must fill out that qualifies you. It depends on maybe you are on disability, or (Assured Income for the Severely Disabled), those things come into consideration,” said Koersen.
“Then you have a set amount of money you have to have left at the end of the month. If you have less than $500 after these set expenses come out, then you qualify. We are talking about basic needs like rent for expenses. We are talking about people who are trying to live on not much money.”
Food bank society members stressed clients are not people abusing the system, buying many different wants first with their paycheques and then having the basic needs met by the food bank.
“The people who use the food bank are poor people on fixed income and don’t have a means of increasing their income. Food often becomes secondary when they have to pay their rent and their water bill,” said Tamara Miyanaga, a Taber Food Bank Society board member. “Kids are compromised, we are seeing many kids go to school hungry. Many of our schools have a breakfast and lunch program (which the food bank contributes to) and if they are using those then of course they don’t have food in their homes and they use the food bank. We need people to know this is not just a way for people to supplement their income, these are people who are in desperate need.
People who walk through the door are hungry. We keep accurate statistics, you can’t just access the food bank just because you want to. There is a financial criteria.”
People may see a fancy vehicle pull up to the food bank, but that does not mean the owner is the one who is accessing the food bank.
“They could be delivering food to people in need or dropping off food or volunteering,” said Miyanaga. “We know of a case where an individual was hurt at work, they have a nice home and have a nice car, but their disability was only going to save their home and vehicle. They had no money left for food based on their time they were on disability. Did they have to use the food bank? -yes. Will they forever be poor? — no. Thank goodness, they will return to work, but during that time period they needed the service.”
Koersen added most clients regular people experiencing a hardship like illness, sickness, terminal sickness, disabilities, short-term disabilities, mental illnesses, bankruptcy and loss of a job, single parents, working poor (minimum wage earners) and immigrants or seasonal workers to our community. Not simply just Mennonites as what can be heard sometimes in Taber’s coffee row.
“We’ve heard we’re just a Mennonite service. Less than 10 per cent, actually five per cent of our clientele is Mennonite. The point we want to raise is are you going to punish 95 per cent of our people that really need this, because you have a prejudice against Mennonites?,” questioned Koersen.
“It doesn’t matter if they are Mennonite or not. These are families in need, no matter what the culture. There are many different cultures that need the food bank that are identifiable,” added Miyanaga.
Another misconception according to board members is the food bank has a lot of high costs in administration. Koersen noted the Taber Food Bank has approximately 15 volunteers a week who help out, one full-time paid staff who by no means is pulling down a hefty paycheque for a non-profit society and two part-time workers.
“Our food bank manager Kathy Boersma not only manages all the food, she is a counselor, and advisor, a financial planner, she is an amazing asset to the food bank, I can’t say enough about her,” said Miyanaga. “All the food bank workers are such great people. People do it because they care and they know the need for it is so high in the community.”
Each family gets one hamper a month where a medium-sized food hamper feeds two to three people.
“Food hampers are only meant to supplement a person’s grocery intake for a month. We do not stock a cupboard or pantry for an entire month of food,” said Koersen.
“We do have large, medium and small hampers. It’s a bag of flour, it’s a bag of oatmeal, there’s no big extras. Each hamper contains a certain amount of protein and that may be two cans of salmon and a can of SPAM because it’s the only type of protein we currently have,” added Miyanaga. “
Miyanaga stresses the food bank society is all about transparency when it comes to trying to dispel any misconceptions there are about the food bank that serves so many people in need in the Taber area.
“At any time we are happy to give people tours, open up our books or explain to people what we are all about,” said Miyanaga. “The food bank is public, you can go on Canada revenue and see our income statement.”
The food bank got a grant two years ago and can’t reapply again until March.
“By the end of this year, if we don’t have extra money I don’t know what we are going to do. We’ve already gone down to four days a week from five. This is crisis time,” said Koersen, adding over the years the surrounding Hutterite colonies have been so generous in sharing their bounty with the Taber Food Bank to keep the organization’s head above water in filling a community need. “We are hurting.”
If you would like to learn more about the Taber Food Bank, you can attend its next society board meeting on Aug. 12 at 7 p.m. at the Taber Food Bank or log onto the Taber Food Bank Facebook page.
For the cost of a $5 annual membership, the minutes of the meeting are available at the food bank or from a church representative or member at large. Members also have listings of upcoming events and are able to vote at the AGM. The next meeting on Aug. 12 will primarily focus on Cornfest events, however, the following meeting on Sept. 9 will be more involved and speak more to the financial demands of the food bank.