Nine-year-old Ryan Clark has just finished his first day of volunteering at the Whistler Food Bank. He promised it wouldn't be his last.
"I wanted to help because I thought the people who need it would really like to have some of the food here and they're not as lucky as us," said Clark on a break from stocking shelves.
The youngster was one of several volunteers at the Spring Creek facility on Monday, Dec. 21 helping to put away the biggest single donation the food bank will receive all year — a truckload full of non-perishable items raised through the Fairmont Chateau Whistler's annual food drive.
Every December the Fairmont runs a competition between departments to see which can bring in the most food. This year's theme was "winter activities" and the Upper Village hotel's front office team was the winning department. Employees even built a Polar Express-like train out of wood and cardboard that was lined with canned goods. Now in its 10th year, the food drive is a way for the Fairmont to show its appreciation for the resort.
"A lot of people hear 'Fairmont' and think it's a scary word," said HR coordinator Beth Pink. "The locals think it means fancy, but we are a part of this community and want to give back to show how much we love this community."
There's always a lot of love shown to the food bank during this crucial season. The Whistler Community Services Society (WCSS) relies heavily on the holiday push to make it through the rest of the calendar.
"This time of year as far as donations go is our biggest," explained food bank coordinator Sara Jennings. "This is the time we start to collect everything that will hopefully last us a couple months. While we're not in particular need of anything because we're getting everything in right now, we're always in continual need and we'll put stuff in storage for later use."
This year's truck delivery also included the food collected at the annual Resort Municipality of Whistler's Christmas party — which always supports the food bank.
The community's generosity over the holidays is all the more essential considering the food bank has seen a spike in usage from one of the community's most vulnerable populations.
"We've seen a few more children than in years past," Jennings said.
So far this year children have accessed the food bank's services 600 times, up from 444 in 2014 — a 35-per-cent jump.
"To hear the stat about children usage going up is distressing," said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden. But while that figure may seem concerning on its face, WCSS interim outreach supervisor Jackie Dickinson believes it's a positive trend that reflects the growing popularity of all of the non-profit's social programs.
"All of our program usage has come up since 2010 and that includes our outreach services," she noted. In 2009, for example, outreach workers conducted 300 one-on-one meetings with residents seeking support or referrals. That number has climbed to over 2,000 this year. "I think it's a good thing and it shows that our community is reaching out for support."
That growing demand is also a sign the community is becoming more comfortable accessing social services, countering the stigma that can often exist, said Dickinson, who observed a significant rise in 2015 in the number of Whistlerites going to their doctor for mental health support.
"I think (Whistler's) unique in the sense that a lot of people have moved here and (often) lack that traditional support network of grandparents and aunts and uncles, so we're extending that additional support network to maintain a healthy community," said Dickinson.
The shifting demographics of the community, with more young families in the resort, could be another factor.
"Our community has expanded, for sure," Dickinson said. "You saw the increase in affordable housing in 2010 ... and with that you've seen the largest baby boom on record in 2013 with 112 (newborn babies), so we have more families than we've ever had before."
The RMOW is lending a hand to the food bank this month with an amnesty program allowing residents to cut their parking tickets in half. The municipality will donate $10 to the food bank for every parking ticket older than 30 days settled. It runs until Dec. 31.
"It really does motivate people to get in and pay their ticket," Wilhelm-Morden said. "You're able to clean off your slate and do something good for the community as well."
In 2009, the municipal amnesty program raised over $2,400 for the food bank. Parking tickets can be paid at the Municipal Hall front counter at 4325 Blackcomb Way between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday to Friday. Municipal Hall is closed on Dec. 25 and 28, and is only open until noon on Dec. 24 and 31.
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