Planting the seeds of food security




It’s been a tough winter for our island community. We all know a neighbour who has suffered an unexpected job loss. For those on limited income or social assistance, non-profits like the Food Bank supply much-needed support while navigating tough times.

Food Banks Canada has noted an 80 per cent increase in users across the country since 2019. According to the organization’s hunger report released in March 2023, one in five Canadians are now accessing the services of their local food bank to help make ends meet.

Here in Campbell River, our own Food Bank is stretched thin, noting an average of 3,000 visits per month. All of this without government funding, relying entirely on the donations of generous neighbours and occasional grants. Food Banks do not receive special discounts on groceries. Instead, “we shop the sales just like you do,” says Executive Director of the Campbell River Food Bank, Joanne Watson.

The value of gleaning

In 2023, Watson was honoured with the City of Campbell River’s Stewardship Award for the second year in a row for creating a Gleaning Station at the food bank.

Gleaning diverts thousands of kilos of fruit each year from the landfill and channels it back into the community where it should be. Watson was also the 2023 recipient of the distinguished Dr. Phil Minnaar Memorial Award for outstanding achievement in community service.

Watson says, “Our motto is simple: ‘How can we help?'”

Working alongside Watson are a handful of full-time employees and nearly 50 dedicated volunteers, some of whom have worked at the food bank since it opened in 1985. At that time, it was meant to be a temporary stop-gap measure during the economic recession.

Campbell River Food Bank

The food bank is outgrowing its current space

The building where the food bank is housed on Marwalk Crescent shows its age. Too small to allow clients inside on distribution days, they line up along 14th Avenue. The queue snakes down the road in all weather—rain, shine, sleet, or snow. The maintenance list for the building continues to grow, but thanks to the tireless devotion of the staff and volunteers, the cogs in the wheel continue to turn.

In the spring of 2023, the volunteers and staff began the task of entering all of the client records into a new database provided by a generous grant from the Campbell River Community Foundation. The new program tracks statistics and prevents abuse like “double-dipping.” It also allows the food bank to get a clear picture of who their clients are.

“It’s the student who works full-time in the summer, but can only work part-time during the school year,” says Campbell River Food Bank Manager Sandra Rushton. “It’s our seniors who can’t spread their pension enough between rent, utilities, and groceries, or the single parent who needs to choose between activities for their children or buying food.” Rushton adds that it’s often former clients who become the food bank’s most loyal donors when their circumstances improve.

If you visit on distribution day, and I encourage you to do so, you’ll find a cheerful atmosphere resembling a busy family get-together. Everyone involved takes their task seriously, but there’s a lot of heart in the offering, and many of the volunteers know the clients by name.

Expanding their reach

The reach of the food bank goes further across our community than you might expect. They also share donations with local non-profit agencies: Beacon Club, Campbell River and North Island Transition Society, Head Injury Support Society, Second Chance Recovery, Həm̓aʔēlas Community Kitchen, Q̓ʷalayu House, and Robron Centre.

The plan is to further this reach, with the dream of a new building that would house food distribution and extended social services. This “Food Hub” would offer counselling, financial planning, meal preparation, and an instructional kitchen. The volunteers and staff want to warmly welcome everyone in the community to come and tour their facility and see what they do. Together, let’s plant a future for food security in Campbell River.

To learn more about the Campbell River Food Bank, upcoming fundraisers, and community events, follow them on Facebook and Instagram and visit their website.