Every autumn, the Stettler Regional Fire Department and Stettler Food Bank combine forces to collect non-perishable, healthy food for those in the community who find themselves in need.
Food donations typically fall off in summer months when there are less students and sports teams collecting for the team, meaning that food banks often find themselves starting the financially tight back-to-school season with slim pickings.
The Community Food Blitz runs on Monday, Oct. 6 from 6 to 9 p.m., and volunteers from the local fire department will be going door-to-door to collect food.
Knowing what type of food to give is just as important as giving, said Betty Birch, a representative of the Stettler Food Bank board.
“We are grateful for all items,” Birch said. “Especially useful are (food items like) peanut butter, cheese spread, canned fish and meat, pasta sauce, juice boxes, fruit and pudding cups and other school lunch items, nutritious cereal, soap, toothpaste and shampoo, coffee and tea.”
Frequently, people will donate food items like cake mixes or sugar cereals, wanting to give people a “treat.” However, when people have very little money to spend on food, the best treat ends up being healthy food – often financially out of reach.
Cans of vegetables, fruits, and other non-perishable healthy foods are especially welcome.
People who want to donate can also keep in mind that some foods have “partner foods.” Spaghetti and sauce, for example, or pancakes and syrup.
“We are unable to accept home preserving,” Birch said, citing health guidelines.
“Since January, we have served an average of 166 adults and 107 children each month,” Birch said. “About 300 families access the food bank in a year.”
The food bank is a last resort for most people, and they only turn to the food bank when they’ve exhausted all support from family and savings.
“(Some people) come because they are unable to work due to seasonal lay offs, poor health, or misfortune,” Birch said. “Most people come only once a month, (and) some may come only a few times in a year. Some come only once ever.”
She noted that back-to-school expenses have made it tough for the area’s low-income families, and food is one of the items that end up on the list of expenses to be cut back.
“Many people who use the food bank are employed part time and just don’t have enough income to support a family,” Birch said.
The food bank is looking for volunteers to help with the food drive, since collecting food is only part of the work.
“We need a few strong arms to help with sorting and storing the food that evening at the food bank itself,” she said. Firefighters are also able to accept cash donations during the food drive, which is used to supplement the food bank with fresher food or items in need, like toothpaste, light bulbs, toilet paper and so forth.
The food bank is located in the lower level of the United Church and is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 to 3 p.m. Each week, four volunteers work at the food bank when it is open, about four volunteers stock the shelves twice a week and every Monday and Thursday volunteers pick up groceries and donated baked goods from both Sobeys and No Frills.
“We are very grateful for and could not operate without the tremendous support we get from this community,” Birch said. “Not only (during) the food drive, but throughout the year. Businesses, organizations and individuals from this community have kept us operational for almost 20 years.”
Since the food bank is not government funded, it relies on donations of food and money to operate.