Food plight in South Surrey

Sources' Denise Darrell, Chelsea Robson and Jaye Murray at the White Rock/South Surrey Food Bank, where lower-than-usual donations have raised concerns for the months ahead.
— image credit: Tracy Holmes photo

To the untrained eye, the shelves at Sources’ White Rock/South Surrey Food Bank look rather full.

Canned goods are stacked row-on-row, and boxes with cereal, pastas and sundry other goods line the topmost shelves, some of them piled four and five high.

But despite appearances, those who know what’s needed to meet the ever-growing need in South Surrey and White Rock say the cache is far below where it has been in previous years at this time, and not nearly enough to get them through the months ahead.

“We’re worried,” said Denise Darrell, director of women, seniors and community services.

“We know what we need for the next eight months, and this ain’t it.”

The Sources food bank, located at 5-15515 24 Ave., distributes food to hundreds of clients every week, aiming to provide two days’ worth of sustenance to each person who needs it. One third of those clients are children aged 18 and younger; more and more are seniors.

Typically, cash and food donations at this time of year are enough to keep the shelves stocked until summer – 60 per cent of what they go through in a year.

But as of Nov. 30 (the latest accounting figures available), cash donations were down by nearly half, Darrell said, and food stocks are dwindling.

Food donations over the Christmas season historically are such that walking through the facility are like an obstacle course.

These days, the aisles are clear.

“Usually, we’ve got so much food, we can’t walk,” said Jaye Murray, the food bank’s operations manager.

The Peninsula food bank is not the only one struggling. Last week, for the first time in more than 20 years, organizers of the Cloverdale Christmas Hamper program put out an appeal for help (which was called off on Friday); and Surrey Food Bank is hoping to raise $400,000 this Christmas season – one-third of the amount that was needed to keep the shelves stocked last year.

“Hunger knows no season,” said SFB executive director Marilyn Herrmann. “People are not just hungry at Christmas.”

Murray and Darrell believe donor fatigue is partly behind the lull they’re seeing. Other factors include a continued perception that the South Surrey/White Rock community is an affluent one and that many people still don’t know there is a food bank in the area.

One other challenge is the belief that donations to the Surrey Food Bank benefit people on the Semiahmoo Peninsula.

Food bank boundaries, however, mean those donations don’t reach south of 40 Avenue.

Darrell is hopeful things will pick up in the days and weeks ahead, and that recent initiatives to raise awareness of the local food bank will make a difference.

One such effort is a program called Streetsmart, in which restaurant diners are invited to donate to the food bank when they pay their tab. A small card on the tables notes ‘Most people think about what they want to eat, not whether they will eat’, and encourages diners to ‘Give a dollar. Give a damn.’

So far, South Surrey’s U-Lounge is the only  Semiahmoo Peninsula establishment to sign on to Streetsmart, but Darrell is hopeful interest will catch on and a goal of five restaurants can be met in short order. The response by U-Lounge customers so far has been positive, she said.

“They have raised almost $700 in the last two weeks,” she said.

The food bank is open for donations from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday, and, through December only, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays. Food is distributed Tuesday-Thursday.

For more information, call 604-531-8168.


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