Hope Thanksgiving food drive forges ahead in COVID-times

Monetary donations being encouraged this year, with donation pick up on Sept. 26

Hope kids help out at a 2015 food drive. Sorting donated food and checking best-before dates is time consuming, organizers say, so they are encouraging monetary donations this year. (Black Press file photo)

With the need greater than ever, the organizers of Hope’s annual Thanksgiving food drive have decided to go ahead with the event amidst an ongoing pandemic.

The sixth annual food drive, which has consistently garnered donations that exceed what most other cities and towns in the province gather per capita, will go ahead with adjustments focused on the safety of volunteers and recipients. Organizers are hoping to once again be a leader in the amount of food donated, which hovers around 5-6,000 pounds each year.

“Hope is unreal,” when it comes to donations said organizer Ron Moller. In 2018, Hope residents gave 6,000 pounds of food which was more than the amount of donations in neighbouring cities Chilliwack and Abbotsford. And the community consistently ranks first in the province for the amount of food donated per capita.

The generosity is matched on the other end by the need that exists in the community, a need Michele Thornhill said has risen substantially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thornhill is executive director of Hope Community Services who run the Hope food bank. The service has seen a 30 per cent increase in the number of people who accessed the food bank in the months of April, May and June. The last week of August saw 129 meals provided and hampers to feed 195 people given out.

This year, residents should expect a paper bag to be dropped off outside their door between Sept. 21 and 23. Donations will then be picked up by volunteers on Saturday, Sept. 26.

Moller said a gentle nudge is also being given to residents to consider a monetary donation instead of giving food.

Communities such as Vancouver have already switched to asking for monetary donations only. And with this money, Moller said, the food bank is able to buy items at wholesale prices and buy what may not otherwise get donated.

The process of collecting food donations is also very labour intensive, and made more difficult during a pandemic.

“A huge job after the food drive is to try and get through all that 5,000 pounds of food and look at every can, and look for the expiry date and get rid of this stuff that’s expired,” Moller said. Of the 5,000 pounds donated last year, 1,000 pounds had to be thrown out as the expiry date had passed.

This process is made all the more difficult during COVID-19, as the many hands that usually do the sorting indoors have to take precautions including physical distancing, wearing masks, sanitizing surfaces and possibly wearing gloves.

A switch to just monetary donations might happen with next year’s food drive, but this year food is still being accepted.

“We are appreciative of anything. If they don’t feel comfortable doing monetary donations and would rather donate food, that’s fine. We’re going to be picking it up this year,” Moller said.

The food, and funds donated through hopecommunityservices.com, stays in the community of Hope.

Organizers are also making some changes to keep volunteers and residents safe during the pandemic. Donation bags are paper, not plastic like previous years, Moller said, as medical experts say the virus cannot live on porous materials for long. Fraser Health has stated that there is no evidence the virus can be transmitted through paper-based products.

Organizers are also seeking volunteers for this year’s drive – people interested can contact Ron at 604-377-4377 or Jim at 604-845-1491.

The Hope Food Bank is open Wednesdays (12 noon to 2 p.m.) and Thursdays (12 noon to 1:30 p.m.) the first three weeks of each month. Families Only food bank days are the fourth Monday of each month, these days include access to food, services, a do-it-yourself smoothie station for kids as well as literacy, arts and crafts packs to take home.

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