It's no secret that the Whistler Food Bank is experiencing record demand, and that donations can't keep up.
In the last three-and-a-half months, the food bank has exhausted its supplies, forcing the Whistler Community Services Society (WCSS) to dig into its reserves to purchase $40,000 in food to fill bags for 2,200 clients - that's more than the food bank spent in all of 2010, which was a record-setting year in its own right.
The Whistler Farmer's Market, Whistler Community Services Society and Pique Newsmagazine have partnered on a project to raise $10,000 in cash and food donations by the end of the market season in October.
"We're okay with exceeding that," said Chris Quinlan, the Whistler Farmer's Market manager. "It just seemed like a natural partnership. The Farmer's Market is about food, the food bank is about food."
Pique Newsmagazine has kicked off the donations with $500 in cash and is providing reusable shopping bags to individuals making a donation at the twice-weekly market.
There will be a collection centre at the Pique tent at the market, and donations can be made at the Re-Use-It Centre, Pique Newsmagazine 's office in Function Junction and the Whistler Community Services Society office at Spruce Grove. All donations $25 and over are eligible for a tax receipt.
"We're also bending the rules a bit by accepting fresh food donations," said Quinlan. "People can drop off food from the (Sunday) market at the Pique tent, and a volunteer will pick it up at the end of the day."
Earlier this year, the Whistler Food Bank went from operating the first and third Mondays of the month to operating every Monday except for holidays.
"People were standing in the cold four or five hours to get food," said Lorna Van Straaten, executive director of the Whistler Community Services Society, the organization that runs the food bank. "We wanted to shorten up (food pickup) days by offering them more often."
The food bank has also had to reduce what it puts in grocery bags. "We've cut the amount because we're now going into debt on this," she said.
Money for the food bank comes from donations, as well as from revenues from the WCSS's Re-Use-It Centre. The Re-Build-It Centre in Function Junction - which accepts larger household items like appliances and construction materials - is close to breaking even at this point and Van Straaten is optimistic that it will start to turn a profit to help subsidize the food bank.
As well as the donation table at the Farmer's Market, WCSS provides a bike check at the Farmer's Market to raise funds. They are also looking to recruit a few more volunteers to help out with the Warrior Dash Saturday, Aug. 6; groups that supply 25 volunteers can earn a $1,700 donation from the event. If you can volunteer, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
As always, the food bank also encourages food drives. Last year locals organized 42 food drives ranging in size from car-loads of food to fundraisers that contributed thousands of dollars in cash and items.
"Every little bit helps," said Van Straaten acknowledging that drives take a lot of work.
While the goal is to raise $10,000, most of the partners believe they can raise more. There hasn't been a formal survey but it's estimated that the Farmer's Market is drawing 4,000 to 5,000 people on a typical weekend, and as many as 7,000 on a long weekend. If everyone donated $1 they would exceed their goal in two weeks.
It will be needed. In a few months Whistler will be back in the shoulder season, the period between the end of summer and the beginning of the ski season where many employees see their hours cut. Demand for food always increases in a shoulder season.
"When people stop making money the demand goes up, and we need to get the reserves back up - that is critical," said Quinlan.
The WCSS is also taking steps to better inform people about what the food bank does and who it serves. For example, almost 70 per cent of clients are unemployed or under-employed. More than 66 per cent of users have been in Whistler between three months and a year, and 34 per cent have been in Whistler for over a year.
Van Straaten points out that Whistler is in an unusual position. Typically the resort's issue is a glut of jobs and a shortage of accommodation for workers, but with several new housing projects now finished it's the other way around - people can easily find places to live, but full-time work is harder than ever to come by. For that reason Van Straaten is predicting higher than normal demand for the food bank, until the economy recovers and the resort "right sizes" its workforce.
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