To commemorate a year of helping ensure food security for Cochrane and the surrounding area, the Helping Hands Society of Cochrane and Area hosted a volunteer appreciation event on Jan. 18 for the food rescue volunteers who allowed the initiative to become a reality.
The event took place at Found Books and hosted volunteers who contributed time to ensure the running of their two Free Food Sheds throughout 2022.
April Baird, Food Programs Manager of Helping Hands Society of Cochrane and Area, said the volunteer appreciation event intended to recognize the hard work the volunteers contributed in the last 365 days.
“Today marks the one-year anniversary of us rescuing food daily from one of the grocery stores here in town,” Baird said.
Every day, the volunteers head out and pick up food from a local grocery store in Cochrane, and take it to the two Free Food Sheds in the community that are managed by the Helping Hands Society.
“It’s an established connection with that grocery store that Helping Hands worked on,” Baird said. “We pick up all of the food that’s best-before dated yesterday, today, and tomorrow, that the grocery store deemed unsellable for their policies, but is still fit for human consumption.
“So, we rescue that every single day and then disperse that amongst that to stock the sheds.”
After a year of commitment to the task, a tremendous amount of food – nearly 50,000 kilograms – has gone unwasted and helped provide for those who need it most in the community.
“We have collected, in that year, 49,543 kilograms worth of food, which translates to roughly $402,294 of food cost,” Baird said. “Which translates even further down to 108,996 meals provided to the community.”
Since it is an open system where the data of users and donors is not collected, anyone can take what they need or leave what they can.
Given the statistics reflected in the first year, Baird said the group has aspirations to get other local grocery stores on board in 2023.
“Obviously there is more than just one [grocery store] in Cochrane and we would really like to challenge them to get involved because we really believe that we can solve community hunger at the community level, just dealing with the food waste we have right here in town,” she said.
Baird said it feels really good to achieve the one-year milestone. Without the volunteers, she outlined it would not have been possible to accomplish what they have done already.
“I’m not going to sugar-coat it, the sheds are a lot of work,” she said. “They do take way more than one person, [and without] these volunteers it’s absolutely not possible. Between the two free food sheds, I managed 160 volunteer shifts a month, so it is a lot of work, but it’s really rewarding.”
“Saving all this food from the garbage, we’re offering it back to the community for free, and at this time with our economic state and climate, it’s such a worthy cause.”
The main, flagship shed can be found on the parking lot of St. Andrew’s United Church on Main St. and has a fridge, freezer and a full-sized pantry. The second, smaller shed can be found on the street in front of Bow Valley Baptist Church, close to the COLT bus stop with a similar fridge, freezer, and pantry set-up.
Deb McKerlie and Joan Holmes, volunteers with Helping Hands Society, were enjoying warm drinks at the Jan. 18 event while they shared their thoughts and experiences of contributing to the food sheds.
“I just keep that food shed full!” McKerlie exclaimed. “It clears out really fast. We do it at noon and we are out by 1 p.m. and I bet the food is gone by 3 p.m.”
McKerlie and Holmes both agreed the work they contribute to the community is very rewarding.
“It is, and I don’t know, it just makes me feel like we’re a good neighbour,” Holmes said.
“And it fills me up,” McKerlie added. “To know that there is food security or food availability for people. It’s very important.
“We’re just proud to be able to do it and I’m glad that Helping Hands has started this initiative. And it’s growing by leaps and bounds, so we’re excited for the new year.”