Filling the void 

Pemberton food bank satiates bellies in shoulder season

Just three months after opening its doors, the Pemberton Food Bank already has a steady clientele. Currently 70 families in the community of 2,330 rely on the service for nourishment, which was previously organized by volunteers on an emergency basis. Now operated out of a permanent downtown storefront by the Sea to Sky Community Services Society (SSCSS), organizers say the need for a more stable food source became all too apparent when high risk citizens came knocking and the cupboards were bare.

"I had a lot of mums coming in who had no food, so that was getting kind of harsh - especially when they've just fallen pregnant or just had their babies. That was when we came to the reality that we needed a food bank," said food bank coordinator Louise Stacey-Deegan, who also works as the SSCSS pregnancy outreach coordinator.

"Even though it was run very well by the volunteers, there was no food coming in, no donations coming in - there were people coming for emergency food and there was no food."

Like the Whistler Food Bank, the Pemberton Food Bank relies entirely on donations and the occasional grant - like money donated by the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation - to keep its clients fed. A recent cross-country collaboration between Shaw Cable and Campbell's Soup Company called the Fill the Food Banks campaign helped generate interest and donations for the fledgling service, bringing in several thousand pounds of food during its October/November run. An additional 1,306 pounds of food was collected by Signal Hill Elementary School students and matched by the Fill the Food Banks initiative. Combined with donations made by Pemberton Valley Supermarket, local farms and various independent contributors, the food bank's supply is staying in line with demand.

"All we wanted was food, there are a lot of families that need it," said Stacey-Deegan. "There are probably only 15 single people that use us, the rest are families. Most families have at least two, three or four kids and we have a couple who have seven children. There are multiple children in each family.

"A lot of them are low income families. They're working but by the time they've paid their rent and everything else, there isn't anything left."

Whistler Community Services Society (WCSS) food bank coordinator Sara Jennings says the shoulder seasons can make it difficult for people in the Sea to Sky corridor to find work, which kicks food bank operations into high gear.

"This month so far is busier than we've been in several years. I can't say ever, but the last open day was the busiest I've ever seen and I've been at the Food Bank for almost two years - 130 adults and five children," she said.

When SSCSS started planning the Pemberton Food Bank, Jennings showed Stacey-Deegan around the Whistler facilities to help her visualize how services are provided. Now that the Pemberton Food Bank is firmly established at 1366 Aster Street, residents who were previously travelling to Whistler to access the WCSS food bank have a much shorter distance to go.

"We try to help each other out," said Jennings. "Basically it's a friendly relationship that we have among all the food banks in the corridor, we just try to keep in touch with things that we need and share around donations."

Both the Whistler and Pemberton food banks are currently seeking donations to keep their services running through the busy season.



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