For Joanne Olson, the needs of others hits home with a painful reminder.
As executive-director of the Friends in Need Food Bank in Maple Ridge, Olson faces a daily dose of despair.
Young mothers and families scraping to pay their rent, seniors on fixed incomes, young children, all without anyone to lend a hand, make their way to the food bank, in a cramped strip mall in the 227th block of Dewdney Trunk Road.
But it was the rapid decline of her brother that led Olson to fight the good fight.
Over the course of four months in 2009, her brother Mike first lost his health, then everything else.
Homeless, he struggled to feed himself on a daily basis. In August 2009 he died. For Olson, the decision to take on the position as executive-director in Maple Ridge had special meaning.
“I think that was the catalyst to say yes. (to the position). He had nothing and nowhere to turn. There can be options, but sometimes they aren’t always a nice place to go.
“It can be hard for someone to ask for help,” she said.
But while many agonize over the embarrassment of having to use a food bank, it hasn’t stopped Canadians from knocking on their door.
That number is a 26-per-cent jump since the 2008 financial crisis and recession.
In Maple Ridge, the Friends in Need Food Bank is coming through another lean summer.
Like many of its clients, the food bank teeters on the edge each month.
While there is no shortage of those needing help, food supplies become scare during the summer. Schools are closed and most organizations take their breaks. As more people hit the road, less finds its way to the food bank’s back door.
According to Olson, the real battle is keeping the shelves stocked when most local food banks are the last thing on most people’s minds.
Christmas and Thanksgiving traditionally spark an acute awareness and surge of generosity, but for Olson, the need never seems to dissipate.
“If you can feed people, and they are not hungry, they can do a lot more for themselves. They are more likely to get up and get out there and find a job. They are just better to be able to live life if they are not hungry,” notes Olson, who estimates the cramped Maple Ridge food bank has close to 3,000 regular users each month.
While she said they’ve been fortunate not to have to shorten rations, things can change in a hurry. The Friends in Need Food Bank operates on a yearly budget of $300,000, which has to cover rent and expenses like heat and hydro, as well as salaries of two full-time and two part-time employees.
Olson said it’s the generosity of the community and the estimated 50 volunteers who keep the doors open.
“Some of them have been coming here for the past 20 years to give of their time, and they ask of nothing in return. They are amazing.”
In B.C., many food banks like the Friends in Need rely on corporate donations, as well as the B.C. Sharing program. Shoppers who patronize Thrifty Foods, Fairway Markets, Overwaitea and Save-on-foods, IGA, Cooper Markets, Canada Safeway, Extra Foods and The Real Canadian Superstore can donate $2 at the check-out.
The money is then given back to the food banks, where they can buy in bulk, said Olson.
So as the shelves filled and emptied quickly behind her, Olson said the key is to make the process welcoming in the face of adversity.
“We try to make it as easy as possible for people to be here. We know it isn’t always easy, but we try.”
• Food Bank Canada accounts for about 85 per cent of all agencies distributing food throughout the country.
In B.C., FBC estimates that slightly more than 90,000 people receive aid from local food banks each month, a 15-per-cent jump since 2008 and 34 per cent since 2001.
While the numbers are increasing, it’s also the demographics that provide a clearer picture of the province’s impoverished.
According to HungerCount 2011, 32 per cent of its users are people under the age of 18, while women make up 45 per cent of recipients.
•Food Bank Facts from HungerCount 2011:
• 94,000 people each month access a food bank for the first time
• 38% of those turning to food banks are children
• 7% of adults helped are over age 65
• 10% of people assisted are First Nations, Métis, or Inuit
• 52% of households helped are on social assistance
• 18% have income from current or recent employment
• 13% receive disability-related income supports
• 35% of food banks ran out of food during the
• 55% of food banks needed to cut back on the amount
of food provided to each household