The Salvation Army is campaigning to become the city’s primary food bank, saying that unlike the volunteer-run Terrace Churches Food Bank, it wouldn’t have to close in the summer months and would be open more hours overall throughout the year.
In a letter sent to Terrace city council and discussed at council’s June 13 meeting, Salvation Army Captain Deb VanderHeyden said the Army’s nation-wide experience in operating food banks makes it equipped to operate a year-round service.
“We believe the need for food banks is just as great, if not greater, during the summer months when children are not in school,” she wrote.
By being designated as the primary food bank by the province-wide Food Banks BC group, the Salvation Army would receive surplus foods made available by large companies through Food Banks BC, cash donations, food bank drive proceeds and $2 Food Banks BC coupons sold in grocery stores.
At issue is the long-standing practice of the Terrace Churches Food Bank, which is supported by 12 churches, to close in July, August and September to give its volunteers a rest.
During the other months it is open four days in a row each month for two hours each day but volunteers are busy at other times collecting food and making distribution preparations from the food bank’s location in the basement of the Dairy Queen building.
Churches food bank officials have also said there is less demand for food in the summer months because people can fish and community gardens are available.
The Salvation Army did suggest setting up a community council chaired by churches food bank president John Wiebenga to oversee food bank operations but that was turned down.
Instead, in a letter sent by the churches food bank to the Salvation Army, it invited the Army to expand its own food bank during the summer months and offered to help by passing along Food Banks BC shipments of surpluses made available by large companies.
“We are all in agreement there is not the same demand during the months we are closed and feel we have a system and procedures in place that work for this community and so stand firm on the status quo,” the letter signed by Wiebenga on behalf of the churches food bank board said.
Speaking late last week VanderHeyden said the Salvation Army is open to partnership with its own operation, but Food Banks BC shipments are random food and other items, not enough to run a consistent program through the summer. The churches food bank did not offer to help with other donations it receives as that forms its inventory when it resumes in the fall.
“Our goal is to speak up for those who have no voice… and we truly believe that families and children are going without food during the summer,” VanderHeyden said.
“What we would like to see happen ultimately is that the Terrace food bank is open 12 months of the year, so that families have full access to the food that they need,” she said.
“Does the Salvation Army have to operate it? Not necessarily.”
Food Banks BC official Laura Lansink said it provides food and support to just one food bank in each community and that it does not regulate how food banks operate.
“We would encourage them to amalgamate,” she said of the situation.
Lansink also said a number of food banks close in the summer so volunteers can get a break.
City councillors discussed the matter June 13 because the Salvation Army wanted a support letter to send to Food Banks BC but it ultimately decided not to get involved.
Councillor James Cordeiro said the issue should be decided by Food Banks BC.
“I don’t think it’s our place to be the arbiter between two social service agencies,” he said. “They are the funders, they are the ones managing it, so if they see a deficiency, then they should decide about it,” he said of Food Banks BC.
Councillor Brian Downie said that the Terrace Churches Food Bank has a long history of service to the community, and it would be good to hear its side.
“We don’t want to be the arbiter, but maybe we can help bring the parties together,” he said.
Councillor Sean Bujtas agreed.
Cordeiro said it is fine if council wants to hear the other side, but he added “I’m not sure that council should be the platform for two organizations to hear the disputes between each other.”
Councillor Lynne Christiansen agreed.
Council will invite the Terrace Churches Food Bank to a meeting.
VanderHeyden said the Salvation Army will keep asking Food Banks BC that it be named the primary food bank here.