The Stettler Food Bank, located in the basement of the local United Church, has been faithfully serving the community for decades.
“In the mid-1990s, it became a registered Society,” explained Betty Birch, who serves as board chair.
The organization has always been located in the Stettler United Church, just not always in the same spot. But today, they have a spacious room in the basement where all the goods are accessible and there is room for folks to move around easily.
The Food Bank is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 to 3 p.m. and Wednesday evenings from 7 to 8 p.m.
“In 2013, the church did a major, major renovation so they created that space for us and gave us another space for storage,” said Birch, adding that the Society is very grateful to the church for the generous support.
Birch, who has been involved with the Food Bank for about 20 years, said about 350 people come to the Food Bank each month, although there are of course fluctuations throughout the year.
Some months see about 400 people come in, and other months, the numbers drop.
But through it all, the community has always been supportive every step of the way.
“We are lucky in that for several years, we have not had a cash flow problem,” said Birch, adding that consistent support also likely stems from the fact that over the past few years, food banks nation-wide have been receiving more attention because of the increase in use.
“In Alberta particularly, the need went way, way up” she said. “So we did benefit from that publicity.”
Trish McColl, who also serves on the board and has been involved with the Food Bank for nearly 20 years, said that tough economic times indeed did see a spike in usage from people from all walks of life.
In the meantime, both women find their time spent at the Food Bank to be personally rewarding.
“We also probably have about 75 volunteers, and there are about 15 to 18 every week doing something in here. So that’s a good feeling to know that we have that support,” said Birch.
McColl said joy also comes from just being able to give back.
“That’s the biggest thing. It’s a good thing for the community to have, and it’s very well supported,” she said. “We do our best to try and help people when they are in need. And that need comes from all kinds of different situations from job losses to medical reasons.
“We are here to help pay it forward a little bit. That’s also what people expect of us when they make their donations, is for us to see to it that those in need get that support.”
Birch agreed, noting that some folks utilize the service for long stretches, while others may only need to visit one or two times. There are all kinds of levels of need.
“We do also operate totally on donations – we have no government funding or any other kind of support. It’s completely on donations and completely (volunteer-driven). But what we do need are strong men with trucks and good backs,” she added with a laugh. “The handling of the groceries is hard, hard work!
“We’ve got some really great guys, but you can never have too much help.”
As to donations, Birch also mentioned that each fall, on the first Monday of October, the local firefighters run a food drive in support of the Food Bank as well.
“That’s been going on forever – for as long as I can remember,” she said. “They go door to door around the town with the help of football players from the high school and a bunch of volunteers. It’s huge for us – we get so much food, we can barely handle it at that time,” she added with a smile.
“Christmastime is huge for us, too. Lots of groups do a collection within their organizations.”
Also, during ‘The Night Before the Night Before’ event, held Dec. 23rd, the Steam Train offers rides for donations to the Food Bank. Other events around the community ties into that annual event as well.
“We had five truckloads of food from the train last year.”
Local businesses can always be counted on for constant support as well. “The businesses are very good about donating,” said Birch.
Another way the community can get involved is via the ‘Grow a Row’ initiative, where local residents dedicate a row of veggies from their gardens to ultimately donate to the Food Bank. “And if it comes clean and bagged, that’s a bonus!”
The Food Bank is also offered a plot at the Community Garden each year, and volunteer help is encouraged for this project, too.
For more information about the Stettler Food Bank, call 403-742-0732 of find them on Facebook.