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'Close to my heart': Food bank volunteer goes above and beyond

'Overall, the food bank volunteers deserve recognition and gratitude for all that they do... They give one of the greatest gifts of all - the gift of their time - to help others,' said Helping Hand Food Bank executive director

Since 1991, the Bradford Food Bank, also known as the Helping Hand Food Bank, has grown to be an essential organization in the community. 

“We serve over 1,200 people from 417 families, with demand climbing every month," said Executive Director, Carolyn Khan. "We have seen a dramatic increase in the past two years as we have doubled our service since Pre-Covid. Lots of new Canadians, Refugees and an increased demand from the higher cost of living.”

The Helping Hand Food Bank has come a long way from collecting food baskets at the Holy Martyrs of Japan Church through the St. Vincent De Paul Society. Now it has a thriving group of volunteers stepping up to serve others at their small bungalow location at 123 Moore Street. If all goes according to plan, they expect to be moving to their new, larger location at the new Community Hub on Church Street sometime this year. 

“Overall, the food bank volunteers deserve recognition and gratitude for all that they do," said Khan. "They give one of the greatest gifts of all - the gift of their time - to help others.  Our food bank would not exist without the dedication of our wonderful volunteers. They really care about people in Bradford who struggle with food insecurity, and it shows in their strong work ethic."

Some volunteers even go the extra mile. According to Khan, Laura Simon is one them.  

“Laura is a board member, as well as a dedicated and hard-working volunteer who comes in weekly to sort food donations, she stocks shelves, and moves boxes from our warehouse to our main building," explained Khan. "Plus she is our Volunteer Coordinator (who interviews, trains and schedules all of our volunteers). Phew! All of that and she still keeps a smile on her face!”

Simon is a recently retired teacher, and in 2019 a good friend introduced her to the Bradford food bank. After learning more about it and how people are benefiting from this service, she became more interested and decided to join them.

“Food insecurity has always been close to my heart," said Simon. "As a teacher for about 30 years, I arranged spirit days every month, where if students wanted to participate they had to bring in cans of food. So it was a pretty natural transition to get involved with the Bradford food bank.”

Simon started out once a week stocking shelves. Over time she became more interested in connecting with the clients and being more engaged with them. As she began to see the increased demand, she became more determined to help out whenever she could.  

“The need is so great, and I was starting to see people I knew in the community. That hit me hard," she explained. "The reaction of clients when they see the amount of food, some are very emotional. I got a lot of satisfaction dealing with them one on one.”

Helping Hand Food Bank sources its food from food drives, food recovery bins at local stores (ie. Zehrs, Food Basics, Walmart, Sobeys, No Frills), and food purchased through financial donations. Currently, it is spending about $1,000 per month on eggs & milk alone, a dramatic increase from past years in terms of inflation and overall need. 

The food bank is open three days a week for food distribution. Monday and Wednesday from 1-3 p.m., and Friday from 6-8 p.m. It offers up to two visits per month per family. On the first visit, users can stock up on meat, milk, eggs, fruits, vegetables, and non-perishable items. On the second visit, users can restock everything, other than meat, milk, and eggs which can only be picked up once a month due to the high cost of these items. 

The demand for food assistance is great and the volunteers are meeting that demand. According to Khan, there is a waiting list to join as a volunteer, which she says is a compliment to the community.