A man stepped slowly through the doorway of the Trail United Church food bank and looked around.
He was older, with thick, workman-like hands, and stood straight and tall despite his age.
A food bank volunteer approached him and asked him how he was doing and he grunted his reply. Pulling out a plastic shopping bag he pointed to the shelving lined with tin cans of food, bags of coffee, sugar and boxes of pasta, as the woman began to take items off the shelf to fill his outstretched bag.
He didn’t seem like the stereotypical food bank client: his appearance portraying a clean shaven, well groomed, capable man who had worked all of his life, made his own way, paid his own way.
But there is no such thing as a stereotypical recipient, said St. Andrew Anglican Church priest Neil Elliot, whose church also runs a food bank.
“People have this idea of what food bank recipients are and it is so not true,” he said. “People, for a whole range of different reasons, use a food bank … and they are generally the working poor.”
They are the people who are working minimum wage jobs and have families, some people are retired and their pensions don’t make ends meet, while others have health problems that limit their ability to work full time.
Sometimes people just need a helping hand, not a handout, during tough times to get them through, Elliot said.
Many people in Trail are caught in those tough times, victims of a shrinking economic base and rising costs, unable to keep ends together that once joined.
Over 110 people a week visit one of the city’s three food banks, up from around 55 people less than three years ago. Two years ago a dramatic rise in food bank usage at the Anglican Church, the United Church and the Salvation Army led to a pronounced food shortage.
Although the pace of donations is now catching up, the need for feed is still increasing at the city’s three food banks, and recently one of the city’s largest benefactors brought home the bacon.
Teck Metals Ltd. stepped up with a sizable cash donation of $20,000, giving $3,000 to each of the city’s food banks, and $11,000 to the La Nina Extreme Weather Emergency Shelter now housed in the basement of the United Church.
With the two church banks spending up to $2,000 per month in addition to donations to keep the larders full, the cash was a welcome find to ease the burden, said United Church diaconal minister Keith Simmonds.
“The funding from Teck here allows us keep a little bit ahead,” he said, pointing towards a back room partly stocked with canned goods, toiletries, and other sundry items one might need to flesh out a household.
Teck made the donation last November when the company was looking to help the shelter, said Carol Vanelli Worosz, Teck’s communications manager.
At the time they became aware of the food bank’s need to feed the shelter’s clients — many of the same people utilize both services — and figured out how the $20,000 donation could benefit the shelter and the three food banks at the same time.
“We found there was an enhanced need to support the food banks as well,” she said.
In the early 1980s the United Church began running a food bank program through Central School in conjunction with the school’s lunch program, the first one in the province outside of Vancouver.
When the school closed a few years later, the city’s first church food bank was set up in the church’s basement, operating every Tuesday, three times per month. Around 1990 the Anglican Church began a once-per-month program on Tuesday, covering the week the United Church did not operate.
Along with the Salvation Army’s long-standing food bank program, the donation has done more just bolster food stocks in the city, said Elliot.
“This donation from Teck has been very helpful in bringing our food banks together, especially in bringing the Salvation Army food banks alongside us,” he said. “This has been wonderful in helping us all work together and share together, and it has increased the amount we are sharing and giving each other as resources.”
“That was a rather pleasant surprise,” said Vanelli Worosz concluded.