In keeping with the trend of recent years, visits to Whistler's food bank in 2013 are pacing below last year's numbers, although usage is expected to increase throughout the remainder of shoulder season.
“Generally during the shoulder season are numbers do start to go up as people run lower on work,” said food coordinator Sara Jennings. “We have seen a bit of a correction since the downturn of the economy when our numbers skyrocketed in 2008, so we are lower than we've been in the last few years, which is great to see.”
By the end of September, the number of visits to the food bank in 2013 totalled 1,658, pacing slightly below last year's figures. The facility saw 2,500 visits for the entire 2012 calendar year, reflecting a 46 per cent drop in usage at the facility compared to the year prior. The Whistler Community Services Society (WCSS), which operates the community's food bank, posted its first deficit in 2011 when an increase in demand led to the non-profit spending its entire budget on food products early into the fiscal year.
Children have been served at the food bank a total of 237 times in 2013, which Jennings noted is “far less than last year." Over 18,000 pounds of food have been donated to the food bank in 2013.
The WCSS instituted several changes to the services offered at the food bank last year, including providing more of “a shopping experience” to users as opposed to pre-assembled packages of food.
“Clients get to come in and have a look at what we have and choose what they like within that, they're only allowed to take a certain amount but they get to choose what that amount is made up of,” Jennings said.
Through connections with local grocery stores and the Whistler Farmer's Market, as well as a community garden established after the food bank's relocation to Spring Creek early last year, the WCSS has been able to offer more fresh produce to clients during the summer months as well. Jennings also said usage at the food bank during the summer was up slightly compared to last year, which she attributed to new arrivals in town having difficulties obtaining employment.
In recent weeks the non-profit shifted the focus of its weekly Community Kitchens cooking classes away from more advanced techniques to better reflect the needs of the resort.
“Last week we hosted our first of what we hope to be more basic cooking skills classes geared towards clients that have more of a difficult situation in their lives that might make it challenging for them to focus on healthy eating,” Jennings said. “It's also focused towards young adults who are leaving home for the first time and might not have cooking skills yet.”
Jennings said “it's always a challenge to keep food stocked” at the facility and asked anyone in the community interested in helping out during this busy season to donate food products or funds through the organization's website at www.mywcss.org, where there is a list of necessary food items posted every month.
The WCSS, which also operates Whistler's Re-Use it and Re-Built It Centres, are currently on the lookout for a new executive director after Lorna Van Straaten resigned to start her own business after eight years on the job. Claire Mozes is serving as interim executive director until the position is filled, likely by the end of November according to WCSS board chair Doug Treleaven.
“We have to have somebody with a business background and somebody with a lot of heart,” he said. “Because this is a very important piece of the puzzle for Whistler, we have to put it out there for the entire community to respond. From what I've gathered already, I think we're going to have a pretty good response.”
Applications for the executive director position are being accepted by the WCSS until Oct. 25.