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Posted: June 7, 2019

Food bank ready for new home

By Stephanie Stevens

The new digs are being dug.

The Columbia Valley Food Bank (CVFB) has broken ground and is on the way to a bigger, better and more accessible building to service clients from Canal Flats to Spillimacheen.

The CVFB has been located in the same spot for over 20 years, in the basement of the old RCMP building, which now houses Summit Youth Centre Hub and prior to that, the Invermere Public Library.

The 700-square-foot space has served its purpose, but the new building, which is located directly behind the old one on the same lot at 201, 7th Avenue in Invermere, will be 1,550 square feet and include a basement. The first shovel of dirt came out on May 22 and the dream is on the way to becoming a reality.

CVFB chair Lawrie Mack said the new space will be amazing.

“The old space is not really accessible… there is no washroom and those 700-square-feet are divided into four rooms… anyone over six feet would hit their head moving from one room to the other,” said Mack. “It is incredibly crowded if we have multiple clients (at the same time), with the coordinator in her office which is like a cell… it is just really tough for people even to move around to fill hampers.”

The new building is the result of two things: a generous bequeathing from Columbia Valley resident Albert Cooper in his will, and the willingness of the District of Invermere (DOI) to provide the land the building will sit on.

“Albert Cooper was wonderful man with just the bluest eyes I have never seen in a person. His estate left about $730,000 to the food bank,” said Mack. “It was an amazing gift.”

The CVFB, which runs entirely on donations, invested the money left to them and the money made from those investments has kept the food bank afloat for several years. The past few years the board has been looking at options for more room.

“We looked at buying, building, renting another spot… looked at all sorts of options. This new building came up when the DOI said ‘why don’t you use that land behind there, use our land?’ So here we are.”

The CVFB plans to give the building to the DOI once built, Mack added. “That way it will keep running, a part of the town. They have, the whole time we have been there, covering all our expenses except telecommunication. Even though we service more than Invermere, they have been so supportive to us and we are very thankful to have them on our side.”

More than just not having to purchase land, the location not changing is another bonus, Mack said. Privacy is an important aspect to the food bank as often people do not want to advertise they are accessing it.

“It is important we are staying here where we are. It doesn’t stand out.”

Helping out even further, the DOI granted an amended side yard setback for the building at their May 14 regular meeting, allowing the CVFB to utilize as much of the land as possible. Councillor Greg Anderson referred to the amendment as a “good news story,” and Mayor Al Miller commended Mack and all the food bank volunteers for their years of dedication and hard work.

The building will cost about $400,000 at the end of the day, but with donations from the Columbia Basin Trust, the Columbia Valley Community Foundation and the Kootenay Savings Foundation, the CVFB already has about $230,000 in donations towards it. There is one last grant in the works, which is successful, will bring the total cost of the building down to $100,000 for the CVFB.

Mack said Ken Willimont has been the project manager for the build, and “volunteers a good chunk of his time” which has also helped to keep costs down. The less they have to spend on the build, the more they can keep invested to ensure an income.

While the money left to the CVFB was an incredible gift and has ensure they group could keep the doors open, Mack said for a few years after people found out about it, donations did drop off, but the need did not change and luckily the donations have come back again.

“Last year we made up 900 hampers for about 1,100 adults and about 600 children,” said Mack. “The numbers have gone up every year. It is in part of reflection of the economy of the valley, the price of living here, things like rent. When folks have to make choices, those are the choices they have to make (food or rent).

“I remember one time I was working getting a hamper together, and the young lady I was making it for said ‘Oh I cannot take meat, I’m living in my car.’ Your heart just drops.”

He added the perception of it being a certain type or group of people is also an issue.

“It can be anyone,” he said. “It can be just one thing, one bump in the road (that results in the need for help). You really don’t know who it might be because people don’t really want to say ‘here I am, going to the food bank.’ It could be just a bad week, one bit of funding cut off, one extra bill and suddenly they are hungry.”

And that is where the importance of continued donations come in, whether food or cash.

“Cash really are the ideal donations as we can typically do more with cash than the typical shopper,” said Mack. “We have a long, long relationship with AG Foods, with them helping us get what we need for a much better price.”

For non-cash donations, the best things are non-perishables and as healthy as possible, canned and dry goods like pasta and cereal with a clear best before date on them. Items that are not typically included in a hamper are also appreciated.

“Just lately we have putting out a call for food for school lunches,” said Mack. “We do have so many families so appreciative of being able to give kids a snack and lunch for school.”

Once all the freezers are up and running, donated meat will also be accepted, with the same guidelines.

“We have long relationships with the Conservation Officers for anything they get, wild meat, deer, moose, elk, lots of people love it,” said Mack. “All we have to do is pay for the processing of it, and that is often less pricey than ground beef.”

The DOI also donates any deer from culls for the food bank, and while “a few people won’t take deer cull meat,” Mack said most have no issue with it.

The CVFB has also been part of the Nutritional Coupon Program with farmer’s market up at the Agri-Park at the Crossroads for two years, which gives clients the opportunity to shop for local fresh produce.

One thing they cannot take, however, are items like home canning, no matter how well meaning the gift.

“We do get it sometimes, but sadly cannot legally use it,” Mack said.

They can, however, accept fresh garden produce that clients can help themselves to.

There is also a need for items like gluten free food, nut free food (like non-peanut butter) for those with special dietary needs such as diabetes or celiac, or allergies to things like nuts or shellfish.

“Hopefully the grand opening will be mid-September,” said Mack. Until then, they will keep operating out of the old location.

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