COCHRANE— The Cochrane Activette’s Food Bank received a boost this weekend after Helping Hands volunteers rallied to collect donations for the food bank hamper program.
Helping Hands Society of Cochrane and Area executive director Chairra Nicolle said the first spring Helping Hands Food Drive proved to be a major success.
The food drive took place Saturday (May 15) morning in West Valley, West Terrace, West Pointe, Heartland, Heritage Hills, Bow Meadows, Bow Ridge and Jumping Pound.
During the event, Nicolle estimates volunteers were able to connect enough food donations to fill 15 huge pumpkin bins. The food gathered during the drive will be used to create hampers at the Food Bank.
“The community was so generous, as they always are— It was more successful than we ever imagined,” Nicolle exclaimed. “At the end of the day, we were very impressed with the amount of food we got for the Food Bank."
Nicolle said the recent food drive has been one of the most logistically complicated to organize due to the stringent COVID-19 public health measures in the province.
Helping Hands volunteers met with the Food Bank on almost a weekly basis in preparation for the big event.
“This was very different. It was nothing like any [food drive] we’ve done before,” Nicolle said.
One of the biggest challenge's volunteers faced was the inability to unload donations directly to the Food Bank. Instead, a team of four volunteers worked together to empty cars and deliver the goods to the Food Bank in carts. From there five Food Bank volunteers would take the carts and unload and sort goods in the facility.
The hand-off of food was carefully planned to minimize contact between volunteers and adhere to COVID-19 public health measures.
The next Helping Hands food drive is scheduled to take place on June 12 in the east and central side of Cochrane.
Helping Hands is looking to recruit volunteers for the food drive and is seeking people who can collect food or deliver donation bags to homes.
In preparation for the food drive Helping Hands will meet weekly to unpack current health measures and ensure they can carefully plan to ensure the food drive runs smoothly.
Nicolle said she has been impressed with how effective the current iteration of the Helping Hands food drive has been in covering small batches of the community.
“We get to meet the volunteers, we get to meet the individuals in the community and connect with them,” Nicolle said.
She noted some of the donations will be added to the Helping Hands new Free Food Shed as they are sorted.
The Food Bank contributes regularly to the Free Food Shed and items can be traded between the organizations based on where they are the best fit.
“We work in partnership almost daily with the Food Bank checking in to see what they have and we exchange items as needed,” Nicolle said. “We’re making sure both organizations have what they need for people using it.”
The Free Food Shed officially opened May 10 and has found amazing success so far, Nicolle said. The shed is available 24/7 at St. Andrew’s Church and can be accessed by anyone in the community. Helping Hands volunteers will be checking on the Free Food Shed daily to ensure it is clean and properly stocked.
“There is no one there to judge what need is. It’s a community exchange program. You like something you want to try it, you take it. You tried it at home and nobody liked it you donate it, as long as it’s still sealed,” Nicolle said. “It’s a community program to reduce waste and fill bellies.”
It has been exciting to see the Food Shed find a rhythm in the community, Nicolle said, explaining it has found a good balance of people dropping off and picking up donations.
She noted Helping Hands has found there is a need for more perishable items, including frozen and refrigerated items, which could use more of a regular top-up.
Nicolle suspects this may be because people are used to donating non-perishable items.
“We would love to see dairy products, fresh fruits and vegetables, yogurts and cheeses donated to the fridge, along with frozen vegetables or frozen sealed meats donated to the freezer,” Nicolle said.
Posters have been included on the Helping Hands Free Food Shed Facebook page and at the physical location to help guide what donations are appropriate. A guideline for the best before versus expiry date for all products is also available.
A key component of the Free Food Shed is helping reduce food waste in the community. Nicolle said it is the perfect opportunity to donate food a family does not like or for those going away on holidays who do not want to see food go to waste.
“If it’s being used and we’re seeing turn over in there on a regular basis we’re going to know that it’s been successful and that it’s been used appropriately,” Nicolle said. “So far that’s what we’ve been seeing.”