Joy MacKay of the Bella Coola Community Support Society and Marlene King of Nuxalk College (far right) are joined by dedicated volunteers at this year’s Christmas Hamper distribution

Joy MacKay of the Bella Coola Community Support Society and Marlene King of Nuxalk College (far right) are joined by dedicated volunteers at this year’s Christmas Hamper distribution

Over thirteen percent of Bella Coola residents rely on Food Bank

Demand for Christmas Hampers up by 45 families this year

It’s an unfortunate reality that is too common across our country, but especially prevalent here in Bella Coola. 138 households in the Bella Coola Valley, representing 174 adults and 93 children, rely on our community’s food bank. These numbers, collected by the annual Hunger Count in March 2017, point to an ever-increasing need for food banks across our province.

According to 2016 census data, the entire population of the Bella Coola Valley is just over 2000 people. 267 people represents 13 percent of our population.

In Williams Lake, the percentage of children living in poverty was 21.1 per cent or 810 out of 3,840 children, while in the entire Cariboo-Chilcotin region, the percentage was 23.2 per cent, the report from First Call BC noted.

“The Bella Coola Community Support Society has been operating the food bank in its current form since 2005,” said Joy MacKay, Women’s Outreach Services. “Our partnership with Lip’alhayc Learning Centre has grown over the years and they are an important part of the work we do with the food bank.”

The Bella Coola Community Support Society (BCCSS) receives a pallet of non-perishable food each month from Association of Canadian Food Banks. However, they have used the extra funds to try and supply more fresh produce and high quality goods to their clients.

“We received $3000 in funding from the 2017 CCRD Grant-In-Aid and we have used this to purchase and distribute a bag of fresh produce most months as well as a high-protein item, such as eggs, cheese or canned tuna,” explained MacKay. “We have also provided a free luncheon once a month on food distribution days to encourage a greater social connection with our clients.”

The BCCSS also partners with the community’s denominational organizations and several local businesses. For example, the food is stored at the Bella Coola Co-op prior to distribution, and Hagensborg Shop Easy continues to offer the “Toonie at the Till” program, as well as acting as a drop point for donations of non-perishable food items.

“The annual Christmas Hamper distribution is expected to reach 150 households this year, an increase of 45 households over last year,” said MacKay. “We try to make Christmas a special time for families, so this years hampers will include a variety of seasonal treats, in addition to the staple, and the Learning Society has also contributed books this year as well.”

Canada’s first Food Bank was created in Edmonton in 1981. It was largely a response to the recession of the 1980s which pushed up unemployment and left people struggling. Food banks were supposed to be a short-term solution, but they have been in operation now for over 25 years and feed over a million people in Canada every year.

According to Food Banks BC, food banks in BC help 103,464 individuals, more than 32 percent being children, every month. Many people don’t realize that it could be their neighbour or co-worker who needs help from a food bank in BC. Why? Because there is no typical person that turns to a food bank for help.

“It is unfortunate that so many people in our community have to rely on the food bank, but we are very grateful to all of the individuals, businesses and organizations that support us so that we can continue to deliver this important service,” said MacKay. “It’s also important to note that 100 percent of donated funds are used to purchase and distribute food to local clients. There are no administration costs, as the Community Support Society volunteers or otherwise absorbs staff time and other resources to operate the food bank.”

Lawrence Northeast, coordinator with Lip’alhayc Learning Centre (Nuxalk College), said that partnering with the BCCSS also provides valuable work experience for his students.

“Nuxalk College’s involvement in the Food Bank not only gives the college an opportunity to give back to the community which has supported us over the years, it also gives our students valuable work experience,” said Northeast. “While at the Food Bank our students are able to learn and exercise a number of important job-related skills including organization, teamwork, and interpersonal communications. These volunteer hours and skills can be added to their resumes and may improve their chances of gaining employment.”

If you are interested in helping with the Food Bank or learning more about the services provided by the Bella Coola Community College or Lip’alhayc Learning Centre, give them a call at 250 799 5588 (BCCSS) or 250 799 5513 (College).

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