The Pemberton Food Bank continues to experience a surge in demand weeks after it officially opened in its new location.
The Sea to Sky Community Services Society (SSCS) first opened the food bank’s doors in September at 1343 Aster Street, just a few doors down from its former location downtown.
The new location is set up to weather the growing demand, with 75 per cent more space than its former home. Following the trend at food banks around the country, it is designed to provide patrons with a shopping experience more akin to a grocery store than the traditional food banks of old, allowing clients to bring a shopping cart into the building and pick out specific items they require. It’s a model that is aimed at removing some of the stigma and barriers food-bank users have faced in the past.
“This new market model provides clients the autonomy to select food for themselves rather than being handed a package of food by some of our volunteers and staff,” said Jaye Russell, executive director of the SSCS.
“There’s a lot of empowerment. There’s a lot of dignity, and as I say, it provides a lot of autonomy to our clients to select the foods they want for their families versus us doing that for them.”
The long-term plan is to build a $35,000 kitchen in the new location, which the society is currently fundraising for, with plans to eventually offer cooking classes and provide ample space for programs such as Healthy Pregnancy Outreach.
“The idea that they could come in and use the kitchen, learn to cook a meal, come together and connect with other mothers is a real dream come true for us to be able to use the food bank space in that way,” Russell said.
“We are moving from what we would call more ‘downstream’ crisis intervention, the emergency food bank, to having the potential for the kitchen and space that could provide us opportunities to offer different programming related to food security and support.”
Like food banks around the country, pandemic drove demand in Pemberton
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pemberton’s food bank hit record usage levels. In 2020, the SSCS reported the food bank increased the number of people fed by 189 per cent.
Before the pandemic, the Pemberton Food Bank received an average of 19 new clients per month. In 2020, that average grew to 106 new clients a month. That same year, the food bank saw a total of 9,080 visits (including repeat visits), which rose by 31 per cent in 2021, to 11,870. So far this year, the food bank has seen 71 new clients.
According to Russell, most of the people that take part in SCSS programs are experiencing food insecurity, which, understandably, has a significant impact on their day-to-day lives.
“Not one person that comes through our door, depending on the type of services that they require from us, isn’t experiencing some deficits in their ability to put food on the table for their families, which certainly impacts other areas of their lives,” she said.
“So when they come to us for a poverty law advocate, sexual violence counselling, childcare, and the various services we offer, we can begin to have conversations around their health and well-being and their ability to feed themselves and their families.”
Pemberton’s recent growth spurt—its population rose 32 per cent between 2016 and 2021—means more pressure has been placed on the SSCS and its slate of programs.
In the 2021-22 fiscal year, SCSS served just under 7,000 people in the Sea to Sky corridor, with Pemberton making up 31 per cent of those clients. In the last four years, the number of people served in Pemberton has increased by 94 per cent.
SCSS currently offers 41 programs across the Sea to Sky corridor, with 32 programs out of Pemberton.
On top of serving the Pemberton Valley, the agency also provides support for the surrounding rural areas, from D’arcy on Anderson Lake down to the First Nation communities along the In-shuck-ch Forest Service Road. To help these areas with food security, SCSS plans to purchase a new refrigerator van to make food deliveries to the outlying First Nations communities possible.
The SSCSS is set to make the move from its current Pemberton office—located a few doors down from the new food bank—once the upcoming Harrow Road affordable housing project is finished, with plans to relocate to the bottom of the 63-unit, five-storey development.
With the increasing demand for services, the agency is in serious need of donations. Currently, the organization is experiencing a budgetary shortfall as it heads into winter.
“We’re heading into the winter season, which is our crunch time, and the colder months are setting in,” Russell said.
“In order to get us through to the end of the next fiscal year, I want to underscore the need for around $20,000 in additional operational funds.”
The food bank is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Thursday at 1343 Aster Street. If you are a senior/elder and require food-bank delivery, that can be provided upon request.
On Saturday, Nov. 26 from 9 to 11:30 a.m., the SSCS will welcome the community to an open house with a free pancake breakfast to show locals the new space and explain some of the organization’s programs. Learn more at sscs.ca/event/free-pancake-breakfast.
If you are interested in donating to SSCS or volunteering with the food bank, find more information at sscs.ca/foodbank.