EDITOR’S NOTE: We’ve received this article from the Lanark County Food Bank.
September is Hunger Action Month, and we invited our elected officials to join us at our warehouse on Wednesday, September 20th, to lend their hands (and backs) to a small portion of our weekly efforts.
Carleton Place mayor Louis Antonakos, Mississippi Mills mayor Shaun McLaughlin, and Sandra Finigan, office manager for MP Scott Reid’s Constituency Office, spent 2 hours sorting and shelving donations, and putting together the weekly grocery order to be shipped down to 5 Allan.
It was hot, back-breaking work, but they were great sports and worked hard. It certainly made people realize that there is a “bit of magic” that happens between dropping some items in the donation box at a grocery store, and seeing clients leave our doors with 5 days’ worth of food in their carts.
And that magic comes in the form of about 45 amazing volunteers who donate a total of about 700 hours each month to ensure our organization can meet its mandate.
In depth: what the Food Bank does
10,500 meals. Imagine the groceries required to make 10,500 meals! That’s how much food is distributed by the Lanark County Food Bank – The Hunger Stop each month. An average of 16,500 pounds of donated food plus the purchased perishables each month.
More impressive is that every scrap of that comes thanks (many times over) to the generosity of our community. We receive no funding at any level of government, so we turn to our neighbours and supporters, people like you, to donate the food; donate the money to purchase the perishables, pay our rent and utilities; and donate the time to collect, sort, and distribute the food to those who need it.
Every day volunteer drivers collect donations from the grocery stores and bakeries in Carleton Place or Almonte, donating their time, their gas, and the use of their vehicle. Perishables are brought directly to the food bank (day-old baked goods, produce past its prime, short-dated dairy), while the remainder, gathered from the donation bins, makes its way directly to our warehouse.
Regular purchases such as margarine, yogurt, cheese, produce, and meat are collected en route (milk and eggs are delivered by the milkman); bulk purchases of non-perishables require extra volunteer drivers with trucks – it is not uncommon to pick up 300 jars of peanut butter or 480 tins of baked beans (maybe both!) especially during our lean summer months.
Damaged packages of goods such as toilet paper, diapers, cases of water, and pet food are collected from Walmart on a weekly basis, and grocery stores across the region donate damaged cases, discontinued lines, and extra product, which is picked up every two weeks by a commercial trucking company and dropped at the Smiths Falls Community Food Bank for sharing with the other 3 local food banks. Another donated vehicle, another volunteer driver collects that for us.
At the warehouse, a dedicated crew weigh, check, sort, shelve and inventory all donations. Stock has to be marked and rotated, ensuring the oldest is pulled first when making up the order to go to 5 Allan.
At our downtown client location, the focus is on getting the food into the clients’ hands.
Three volunteers are assigned to “shop” with our clients – taking them through our “store”, ensuring they get their full allotment of food, and suggesting menu ideas and alternative healthier ways to prepare foods. A further three volunteers work in the background.
Once a week, in the space of 3 hours, those 80-110 banana boxes of food which were stacked at the warehouse are delivered, dated-checked, and shelved at 5 Allan. Before we open our doors each day, and several times throughout each shift, the shelves in our client shopping area are restocked. Incoming produce donations are checked: the squished tomato is removed from the container, rusty leaves are culled from the lettuce, berries are sorted.
Anything which past its prime – wilted greens, tired carrots, a zucchini which is a little soft – is chopped and frozen; we’ll take a day at the Two Rivers Food Hub next month to make vegetarian chili with the accumulated produce and some extra cans of beans. It will be vacuum-packed into family-sized portions and frozen for distribution to our clients – last year we made salsa.
Anything not fit for distribution or for the chili pot is passed on to a local farmer for her goats, pigs, dogs, and chickens; nothing is wasted – what the animals won’t eat goes onto her compost heap to fuel next year’s crops.
Meanwhile, surplus bread is diced and brought to the Black Tartan Kitchen for toasting into croutons. Volunteers repackage larger containers of coffee, tea, flour, sugar, oatmeal, salt, cheese slices, and pet food into smaller portions, so that everyone gets some.
The paper bags that FreshCo uses for their $5 donation bags are repurposed to hold dog food. We are careful to recycle cardboard and plastic, meaning our weekly contribution to the landfill is usually only 1 large bag of garbage – not bad for 2,500 meals! Mid-week a load of cardboard is delivered to the public works yard, and the emptied banana boxes are picked up by Quattrocchi’s and put back into the grocery store distribution chain.
I am amazed at what we can accomplish in just 3 hours a day! But people are surprised when they hear that we provide only 5 days’ worth of food to our families each month. It’s not that we don’t want to do more, but it’s what we have, in terms of donated food, money, and time. And our clients – all 700 of them – are ever so grateful!