Barry Wait no longer waits in line outside Sources White Rock/South Surrey Food Bank – but he hasn't forgotten the difference the food he once received there

Barry Wait no longer waits in line outside Sources White Rock/South Surrey Food Bank – but he hasn't forgotten the difference the food he once received there

Feeding the need

Barry Wait's firsthand experience with poverty is paying off for Sources White Rock/South Surrey Food Bank.

Ebbing waters of the Semiahmoo Bay and the lush green of Semiahmoo Park – the view is reality for many residents who call Marine Drive home, and White Rock’s Barry Wait is no different.

But unlike the majority, Wait’s panorama includes a direct line to his former life. From his balcony, he can see one of the places he used to curl up to sleep at night, because he had nowhere else to go.

Down the street is the fish-and-chip restaurant whose fare – tossed by those who ordered more than they could manage – Wait would pull from a nearby garbage bin to soothe his hunger.

“Through some bad choices… I lost everything,” the former salesman says, recalling the seven years he spent on the streets after falling into the clutches of drugs and alcohol. “I lost my family, I lost my wife, I lost my children…”

It’s been about 10 years since Wait, now 74, turned his life around. He’s reconnecting with his children and has remarried. But the memory of those years stays with him.

He doesn’t let it bring him down. In fact, for the past 2½ years, he uses his story to raise awareness of and support for Sources’ White Rock/South Surrey Food Bank.

Through his role as a liaison between the organization and Peace Portal Alliance Church, he is credited with inspiring more than $60,000 in donations, including $27,000 dropped off last December. And last Thursday, a $5,000 cheque came in from a lone member of the congregation.

Food bank manager Ruth Chitty said Wait’s experience living in poverty has been invaluable in helping people understand who in their own community uses the food bank and why.

“You remain aware and you immediately find common ground with people. You understand,” Chitty told Wait. “Through that, we have seen so much action and support.”

For Wait, the choice of charity was a simple one. After all, the food bank saved his life. For about 18 months, he stood in line once a week to receive the two days’ worth of food that clients are allotted. That, along with the dignified manner in which he was treated, helped keep him on the difficult road to recovery.

“It was my survival,” he said. “They treated me so well in terms of the nutrition I needed to survive. I lost everything… but through the grace and through the White Rock food bank, I survived.

“Coming out of the despair and into the hope, you need food. It’s pretty hard to think and have any optimism on an empty belly.”

Wait was introduced to Peace Portal Alliance Church through his recovery program. When one of the pastors was encouraging community involvement and outreach, the food bank was the first thing that came to Wait’s mind. He told his story, and the rest is history.

Food drives are announced through the church bulletin, and Wait does what he can to raise awareness of the importance of healthy food donations. He also stresses how much more the food bank can do with monetary donations, through bulk buying.

Wait hopes his efforts will help correct the stereotype many people have of those who use the food bank. They’re not “useless, non-workers and bums,” he said.

“The people that are coming here are young moms with four children, young dads… seniors. The need here is for somebody that’s been working and then all of a sudden, they’re out of a job.

“There’s a great need, and it’s growing.”

While Wait, himself, no longer relies on the food bank – he now stands in the order line at the fish-and-chip shop when a craving for the meal hits – he’s not about to shelve his efforts to lend a hand.

“This is just something, it’s in my heart. I have great respect for everybody going through here, because I was there. I only wish we could do more.”