There were plenty of benefits that came with the Whistler Community Services Society's (WCSS) recent move to its brand-new, purpose-built facility on Nesters Road—additional office space and a location central to the village chief among them.
Those new digs have also spelled good news for one of WCSS's most important programs, along with the range of cooking and nutritional education classes it offers. The new kitchen, named after WCSS donors Yves and Charles Chang, founder of plant-based nutrition brand Vega, will continue to facilitate the WCSS' largest initiative, the Whistler Food Bank. Jackie Dickinson, the organization's executive director, explained how the new space will offer a welcoming environment that should help community members feel more comfortable about using the food bank.
"When our food bank clients come into our space, they wait now in the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation Community Room instead of lining up, which is huge," she said. "And each person gets a number, which means then they can go around the space and connect to our social service team and also receive a hot lunch."
For a lot of social service organizations, there is often a disconnect between food bank users and the range of programs they can access.
"For example, at the Salvation Army, they have a food bank, but then if someone wants to connect with a social service worker or a community program, they have to go to a different location," Dickinson noted. "A lot of people say that once they were able to see (an outreach worker) and share a meal with them, they were more likely to connect with a service, as getting a business card handed to them was just another barrier. We are really proud of that and it is instrumental for people to connect to that level of service."
Food bank users can break bread with WCSS staff every Monday, starting in September, as part of its weekly hot lunch program. It's a way for residents to fill up on a nutritional meal, connect with outreach workers, and learn about how to make the most of their pantry. FoodSafe volunteers are generally needed from about 9 a.m. until noon on Mondays.
"We all share a meal together, which is really important, and (volunteer chefs) can only use ingredients found at our food bank," explained Dickinson. "The big feedback we get from our food bank clients is, 'I wish I could cook with this, but perhaps I'm not able to buy these things,' so we're using everything that exists within our food bank, which is a pretty powerful resource of food."
The weekly lunches have stoked the competitive fires of some of Whistler's top chefs, Dickinson noted, who readily embrace the challenge of turning the food bank's donations into a hearty and delicious meal.
"We're always looking for FoodSafe volunteers to help us and we've had major businesses come to the table, such as the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, the Whistler Conference Centre, Race and Co., and all these other businesses in town that have come and donated their time and their staff to run our hot lunches," she said. "It's a bit of a chef's challenge."
The food bank has also leveraged its partnership with the Whistler Farmers Market through the provincial Farmers' Market Nutrition Coupon Program, which offers vouchers to financially-restricted families, pregnant women, and seniors that can be traded in for farm-fresh produce. In Whistler, individuals are also eligible for coupons if they complete a multi-week food skills and nutrition course. This summer, participants have learned about everything from cooking locally sourced, organic breakfast, to growing their own microgreens.
"This food skills and nutrition (program) is really building community and really empowering people to connect with others, share a meal and do good things," Dickinson said. "Our Charles and Yves Chang kitchen is instrumental in our new building to making those programs happen."
To learn more, visit mywcss.org.