Heading into its busiest season the Whistler Food Bank is already struggling to meet the needs of the community.
"The shelves are pretty bare right now," said Food Bank coordinator Sara Jennings. "We're hoping to get our stock up before the busier fall season. Around Christmas is when we see the most donations, but our demand goes up before then."
Typically the Food Bank stockpiles enough food from holiday food drives to last through the next year, with some assistance from donations and from drop boxes at local grocery stores. However, donations are down while the need for services has increased significantly.
By way of comparison the food bank served 40 clients in August 2008, compared to 116 in August 2009. As well, in the first nine months of 2009 the Food Bank has served 762 clients, which is 239 more than in all of 2008.
The food bank traditionally sees the number of clients increase in the fall months as new people arrive in the resort but can't start working full time until the snow falls and the number of visitors increases. However, more families are using the service.
"It's not just that new people are arriving, it's also a fact of life in Whistler that a lot of people work two jobs and sometimes there are breaks in between, or they're not getting as many hours," said Jennings. "We do get a fair number of young people, but we are definitely providing service to quite a few families. I looked up an interesting statistic because the local elementary schools are doing a food drive for us, and since June we've provided service to 58 children. Some of those children have had a parent come more than once, but that shows who we're helping."
Jennings couldn't say why donations are low or why demand is up, although she said the economy is likely part of the reason. As a result, the food bank has had to purchase the majority of the food it is distributing.
"It's important to let people know that we're purchasing that food using Nesters points that people are donating, so at this point we haven't had to dip into our funds yet," she said. "It's nice to have that cushion but we don't want to use it up too quickly.
"We're meeting with the manager of our local grocery stores this week to discuss ideas to increase donations, and hopefully some good stuff will come out of that. The grocery stores have been great to work with and they've been very supportive of us over the years. I imagine they can think of a few creative ideas to talk to people."
In addition to boxes for food donations and points at Nesters Market, the grocery stores also post tags on items that the food bank needs - staples like pasta, pasta sauce and peanut butter.
The food bank is also encouraging businesses and organizations in town to host collection drives, and has had some success since word went out at the start of the summer that supplies are low. Whistler Community Services Society, which manages the Whistler Food Bank, has also put together a guide to hosting a food drive.
The Food Bank is housed in a trailer beside the Whistler Catholic Church on the bottom of Lorimer Road, and is open the first and third Monday of every month from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. In the event of an emergency you can also contact Jennings at 604-935-7717.
Some food items that are in demand include rice, peanut butter, pasta, pasta sauce, cereal, canned vegetables, canned fruit, instant macaroni, instant noodles, granola bars and crackers. The food bank also distributes items like shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, reusable shopping bags and toys. There are boxes at Nesters, IGA and Creekside Market.
To move goods around the food bank is also looking for a child's wagon, as well as a sturdy bike to pick up food with a trailer. Any donations of bread, fruits and vegetables are also appreciated and should be made directly to the Food Bank.