The Whistler Food Bank has a simple yet significant mission: to feed people with dignity. That goal is the same today as it was 10 years ago, when the local food bank still operated out of the cramped confines of a trailer with no running water.
"To see, in 10 years, the amount of support we've received and the passion we have in this community, to be able to start this [school lunch] program and have it grow alongside our other programs, it's really something to celebrate. It's exciting," said Jackie Dickinson, executive director of the Whistler Community Services Society (WCSS).
WCSS will be marking its 30th anniversary on Oct. 4 at a dinner thrown by the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, one of the social-service provider's biggest supporters, at its Portobello restaurant.
Funds raised at the dinner will go towards WCSS programming dedicated to curbing food insecurity locally, namely, the food bank and its hot lunch and school lunch programs, the latter of which saw 12,148 snacks handed out to students at five Whistler schools last year.
"I think that it's important to know that any child from any demographic can experience hunger for a variety of different reasons," explained Dickinson, who added that there are a number of factors playing a part in youth hunger: "Longer school days, the high cost of housing and affordability may be contributing to kids' needing this program more than we would've thought three or four years ago."
Last year, the food bank handed out food 2,773 times, 677 of which were to children. Pre-packed bags of food were also served 300 times outside of regular food bank hours.
Injury and illness remain the primary reasons for people to visit the food bank, at 30 per cent, with 14 per cent of users claiming a high cost of living, unexpected expenses, or a low salary, followed by 13 per cent being out of work, and 11 per cent being underemployed.
Historically, only between one and five per cent of people who accessed the food bank in the past cited high cost of living as the reason.
Forty-nine per cent of last year's food bank users were considered precariously housed, 29 per cent said they were renting but unsure if it was a stable situation, while 10 per cent reported living in staff housing. Five per cent said they were in a stable rental situation.
In November 2018, WCSS also began surveying food-bank users on what percentage of their income they spend on rent. People who pay 30 per cent or less on housing are considered stable.
According to WCSS program and community development manager Gizem Kaya, there is no typical user of the local food bank.
"We see moms, we see single parents, we see young people, we see seniors, we see people who are 17, 18 who made a mistake, a bad choice and ended up in the wrong place," she said. "We see all across the age range, across demographics, I would say."
Increasingly, Dickinson said they're hearing from clients who are choosing to travel outside of Whistler to purchase groceries due to high costs locally.
"What we're hearing from families and individuals is that they're trying in every way possible to start to control that food budget, which on certain days of the week can fluctuate based on rising food prices," she noted. "On a food bank level, we feel very well supported by some of the major grocers in the community, but yet, we're definitely seeing a lot of individuals or people who, when they're not accessing our food bank, are shopping in larger urban centres or when the cost of food is down."
Fairmont Executive Chef Isabel Chung, who was instrumental in developing WCSS' weekly hot lunch program for food bank users, has created a special multi-course menu for the Oct. 4 dinner that Dickinson describes as "elevated" comfort food.
"We can't give much away, but, wow, the menu is awesome," she added.
WCSS is aiming to raise $10,000 for its food security programs. The 30th anniversary dinner runs from 7 to 10 p.m. and includes a silent auction, prizes, beer from sponsor Coast Mountain Brewing and music by DJ Dakota. Tickets are $65 and include dinner and a drink. Get them at eventbrite.ca/e/whistler-community-services-society-30-year-anniversary-fundraising-dinner-tickets-69759706159.
For those unable to attend but still wanting to contribute, donations to WCSS can be made at mywcss.org/get-involved/donations with a note that the funds are intended for "food security."