For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Matthew Westergard, and I have been coordinating the Family Assistance Program (FAP) here in Tumbler Ridge for about a year, I have been given a difficult task in filling the shoes of the previous Coordinator Lenore Sprake, who handled her duties skillfully and responsibly here in the community.
It has been an eye opening experience as I have made mistakes, been given opportunities to learn and grow, stewarding the resources we have, as well as meeting and having an opportunity to care for and assist folks who are down on their luck or have nowhere else to turn.
Our whole reason for existence is to help people. To assist them in any stage of life, after graduation, having a family, entering into retirement, being retired for a while and having need. We do what we do because we want to help. Simple as that, we want to assist folks get back on their feet.
The primary way this is done is through the Hamper Program, and the Christmas Hamper Program. At any given time our shelves are stocked and supplied with the staples of life and college dormitories—Kraft Dinner, Ichiban, and Chef Boyardee. But there aer also things like cereals (Raisin Bran, Corn Flakes, Oatmeal), Tuna, Hamburger Helper, Cans of soup (Mushroom, Tomato, Chunky Beef), Sidekicks, Pancake Mix, Baking Supplies (Flour and Sugar, etc) and more. All of these are placed in boxes and bags so that they are ready for distribution.
You would also notice three freezers, in which we have things like ground beef, margarine/butter, wieners, Johnsonville brats, and sometimes bread.
The final item that goes into a hamper is a gift card for Shop Easy. We try to have a number of these on hand for distribution for our clients. Depending on the size of the family we give between $10–35.
Hampers are distributed on a monthly basis, which means that we are prepared to assist that individual or family once a month. We give out a lot of food at once, up to five times as much as other area food banks. But people need to remember, we are an assistance program. We assist people. We are not a grocery store.
At Christmas time we try to go an extra step and offer Christmas Hampers. A Christmas Hamper has a Turkey, potatoes, chocolates, carrots, onions, eggs, milk, cheese, turnips, as well as what goes in our regular hampers. We also add presents for the children and for the adults.
The food that we get for the hampers comes from the public, in a variety of ways. The District of Tumbler Ridge Food drive provides close to half of what we need to make hampers for Christmas as well as hampers for the year (although that was down this year). Many of you know or have seen the donation box at Shop Easy foods (which Darryl allows us to keep there), it is filled with various goods that are brought to the food bank every couple of weeks.
Back in October we were blessed with an abundance of food from the employees at the Quality Wind Project, they gave us more food than we ever could have expected, they were very generous. We have had other companies donate sausages, as well as hot dogs and hamburger buns.
There are items that we don’t often receive and yet are very important to the hampers. Things like wieners, margarine, Peanut Butter, Chef Boyardee, coffee and toilet paper are not things we receive large quantities of and so we do have to spend money on these things, as well as replace stock as it is given away during the year. At Christmas time our expenses grow when we need to buy turkeys, vegetables, chocolates, cheese, eggs, milk, and miscellaneous gifts that are needed.
In order to pick those things up, we rely on cash donations. We are supported by a number of companies, including TECK, Eye For Detail Photography (who put on a wonderful fundraiser each year), the Pharmacy, Shop Easy, the Dollar Store, The Hardware store, the local steelworkers union, and so many others.
The New Life Assembly church allows us the use of their space, and doesn’t charge rent, or utilities. Without that support it would be difficult to find a place for the FAP to reside. There are many people who find themselves in need of assistance, we have a number of seniors, a number of unemployed folks, some with medical conditions, others are in town to get a job and need help in the meantime. The point being there are many different kinds of people in different stages of life that we are happy to help.
I don’t want to get into the specific criteria for how we determine need. It is a difficult thing to do. What we do is consider the situation that the person is in: Employed, Unemployed, Kids, Single, Married, etc. What is income, what is rent, and from those questions we are able to determine whether they meet our guideline. We are pretty generous the first time someone comes to the FAP. We recognize that people come from different places of life and that people can have a bad week, or month or get injured, and in every circumstance we do what we can.
“Looking back over the records that I have for the year 2012, we helped close to 40 family units, and gave out 75 hampers and around 19 Christmas hampers. The number of regular hampers is basically the same as last year, but we did see a decrease in the Christmas hampers which are down from 30 last year.
There have been rumors that the FAP isn’t available for people. That we are only open one night a week (which was how it used to be run). Truth is, there is actually more availability than there has ever been. The Food bank has a cell phone 250-242-7404, which I carry most of the time. Anyone can call that number and get a hold of me or at least leave a message and I’ll get back to you. Usually I can have a hamper ready to go in 15 minute. I work at the church and am there very often, and can give out hampers during my regular office hours, typically within an hour or two of a call. Office hours are Monday to Thursday, 9–4:30. If I am busy or out of town I hand the phone and responsibilities to the other volunteers.