By Kevin Werner, News Staff
You’re hungry. You’re children are hungry. But you don’t have any food in the house.
The only place that has some is a local food bank, but the doors don’t open until later in the morning. People still line up waiting for those doors to open, hoping their shelves are not empty by the time they enter.
It’s minus 35 C outside as they wait in line.
“I wouldn’t (wait outside),” says Steve Leighfield, executive director of St. Matthew’s House, located on Barton Street. “But you know what, I would if that is the only way to get food. I’ve seen people do that. It’s a very difficult process.”
The 22nd annual Ancaster Food Drive, which is being held this Saturday, attempts to alleviate some of the concerns about filling social agencies’ food bank shelves at what is considered a slow time between Christmas and Easter. The February date was selected deliberately, says co-chairs Jim LoPresti and Tom Ippolito, to provide a needed boost to the social agencies’ food bank shelves during a time of need.
The one-day event is operated like a well-oiled machine with over 500 volunteers picking up food donated by businesses, and households, delivering them to St. John’s Anglican Church on Halson Street, where a sea of people pack them in boxes that are then transferred into waiting trucks operated by the seven social service agencies.
Last year the Ancaster Food Drive collected a record haul of over 82,500 pounds of food and $6,500 in donations. The food is divvied up into about 12,000 to 13,000 pounds of food each for the agencies. The operation is usually completed by the early afternoon, said LoPresti. Since the start of the food drive years ago, LoPresti says they have learned through experience how to make the collection and distribution of the food seamless.
“Many hands make for light work,” he said. “When we get going, we get going.”
“It’s an amount of food we wouldn’t normally receive,” said Leighfield, when asked how important the food drive is to his organization. “This will tie people over between Christmas and Easter. It will make a huge difference.”
St. Matthews House supports about 29,026 people with their food bank operations, collecting about 204,000 pounds of food in 2013.
Andrea Buttars, manager, resource development for Wesley Urban Ministries, says during the Christmas season people are generous in their donations to food banks and other agencies. Wesley Urban Ministries serves food to about 5,000 individuals over the Christmas season. But after the holidays, there is a drop off, she said, as it provides daily support to 1,250 children, seniors and youths.
“Even though we have a high number of donations, they are gone,” she said.
The shelves are also low at Neighbour to Neighbour, says Mark Raymond, manager of food services for the Mountain organization.
“(The food drive) definitely helps us get through the (last) couple of months at least,” he said.
The organization provides help to about 1,495 families.
The types of foods the agencies are looking for include potatoes, baking ingredients, toiletries, beans, rice, lentils, canned vegetables and fruit, pasta, canned meat, soups, coffee and tea, canned and powdered milk, and the usual standbys of pork and beans and peanut butter.
Still, even with the record amounts of food collected from the event, the agencies representatives acknowledge their share of the food will be gobbled up within weeks.
Brother Terrence of the Good Shepherd Centre says the food will last between six to eight weeks. But it’s a critical time as the centre provides valuable assistance during a down time in donations and the organization prepares for its Easter Food Drive.
Another important aspect of the Ancaster Food Drive for area agencies is how it has created a sense of community to help the city.
“It’s everybody working together,” said Buttars. “It’s a real big community builder for the community and it brings together all the different agencies together so that can be a great model for other neighbourhoods.”
Added Raymond: “It’s such an excellent event for strengthening community. It’s a great tradition. It’s inspiring.”
LoPresti and Ippolito have suggested other neighbourhoods in the city use the Ancaster event as a model to hold their own food drives. It’s an idea that hasn’t taken hold, but is one that some organizations would like to see. LoPresti says Buffalo Wild Wings, in partnership with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats will have football players serve customers at the recently opened restaurant in the Meadowlands Feb. 24. The proceeds from the evening will be donated to the food drive.
‘This is another part of the community responding,” he said. “Hamilton is really getting around this event.”
Buttars has talked about holding a food drive in her Dundas community, which has the largest gap in wealth within the city. And Raymond points out people in the West Mountain are shocked to discover some of the highest poverty rates are in their own Ralston neighbourhood, matching the high levels of poverty in the inner city.
Despite the bad economic news, Hamilton seems to be working hard to change the climate on poverty.
“I’m sensing a small optimism in the city and there are promising trends,” said Buttars. “It’s important for people in Ancaster to know that we are all working together to make a long term impact. The end goal is for (people) to become as independent as possible and there are success stories in all of our organizations.”
Raymond says food banks and social agencies are in a paradoxical system.
“We hope to extinguish ourselves,” he said. “We hope to work to the point where we are no longer needed. I’d like to think that will happen in my lifetime.”