He would often drive one of his neighbours to the 100 Mile House Food Bank but it took Kenneth James O’Connor a while before he could swallow his pride and ask for help himself.
The support has been invaluable to O’Connor, 57, who has been using the food bank for the past year-and-a-half after he was forced to close his firewood business following the 2017 wildfires and new laws on firewood gathering. These days, he ploughs driveways in the wintertime and “chases the dollar” by doing odd construction and plumbing jobs the rest of the year.
“The food bank has been there for me. My family eats better than we ever ate before I used the food bank. The vegetables they give us has been a tremendous help,” O’Connor said. “I rely on them now and it’s made my life and my family’s life a lot better.”
As the holiday season nears, the 100 Mile Food Bank anticipates it will see a growing demand for its services, due to the economic downturns caused by both the COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of local mills. Food Bank president Brett Berube said the food bank typically serves about a few hundred people every year and he’s already seen an uptick in the numbers coming in.
“The numbers are rising again so we’re anticipating another big turn out compared to last year,” said Berube, who has been volunteering at the food bank for more than a dozen years. “We had 291 people last year at distribution, so we figure we’re going to get more.”
READ MORE: 100 Mile Food Bank asks public for donations
Distribution, which happens twice a month, is when the food bank gives out hampers of food to those in need, Berube said, though people can come in throughout the week to pick up fresh produce. On average, about 20-25 people are coming in every week and Berube said they try to provide them with as much nutritional healthy food as possible.
The people using the food bank each have their own story, Berube said, with clients ranging from the elderly to family men.
O’Connor said he has noticed both elderly people and young people tend to be waiting in line.
One of these younger people is Riad Hess, 32, who has lived in 100 Mile House for five years and is raising six children with his wife. Hess works at the Source part-time, a job he feels blessed to have, but was unable to work for three months during the COVID-19 lockdown this year.
As the only income earner, he turned to the food bank to help feed his family, just 11 days after his youngest daughter was born.
“We needed the help and the fact that this was available and they made it so welcoming, I pretty much just had to get over the fact that I needed help and that’s ok,” Hess said, adding that the blessings that have come out of asking for help have been “immense.”
Hess echoed O’Connor’s sentiment that his family has never eaten better since relying on the food bank as their fridge is consistently stocked with yogurts, fruits and vegetables. Eating healthy is expensive these days, Hess said, especially with eight mouths to feed.
“It brought me tears, really, so I have to say a big thank you to everybody that volunteers here and also the people on the back end that go pick up the food and the people who donate the food,” Hess said. “All the donors that come in, you don’t see where the food goes to but it goes straight to the heart. The families you impact, it’s enormous, keep it up.”
The food bank relies on donations food and money to stock its shelves. It also gets vegetables and other fresh produce from local grocers when they’re close to expiring but are still good, O’Connor said, thanks to a government program.
Usually a meat-and-potatoes guy by choice, O’Connor said eating vegetables and fruits like zucchini, squash, grapes, tomatoes and celery has made him feel healthier than he has in a long time.
Even before he relied on the food bank for support, he said he always felt it was an injustice to see good food thrown away when they were families in need. He would encourage anyone who is struggling to put food on the table but is too prideful to turn to the food bank.
“I go in I pick up my stuff and donate $5. The next time I go in I might not have $5 to donate but if you can and don’t think $5 is a lot, it adds up,” O’Connor said, adding that he intends to keep donating to it even when he no longer has need of its services.
Hess added it’s really important that 100 Mile House has the ability to look after its own and thinks that the pandemic, for him, has brought him closer to the community as a whole.
Donations can be dropped off at the 100 Mile House Food Bank Society at 199-7th St. Financial donations can also be made online or mailed in.