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No summer break for the Kelowna food bank

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When the hot summer sun arrived in Kelowna last weekend, you could see that people were waiting for it.

Almost instantly, beaches filled up, downtown sidewalks were busy and the Kelowna crowd was immediately in full summer mode.

But at the Kelowna Community Food Bank, it wasn’t summer that they were welcoming, when the calendar turned from June to July and the rain faded into our memory banks.

The arrival of July at the food bank means the start of the Christmas in July campaign, an important initiative designed to keep food bank shelves stocked during a time when most people are not thinking about them.

“I think that’s the case especially now, when you look at the warm weather we are having, it’s such a beautiful summer,” said Vonnie Lavers, the executive director of the Kelowna Community Food Bank.

“So we can understand why people aren’t focused on our work.

“That’s why we do this. To remind people that we take care of people in the community year round.”

What the food bank does is partner with businesses to stage Christmas in July, asking local businesses and residents  to hold various events around the community to keep up the visibility of the food bank.

Beginning in May, the food bank sends out letters to local businesses suggesting events that can be held during the Christmas in July event.

“We start to go to our current donors asking them to get involved with the campaign and hold third party events,” said Lavers.

“What happens from there is up to the companies, but people jump on board. A lot of companies will have a raffle or a company garage sale or a hot dog sale and they will use our banner and take donations.”

This year the food bank has set a goal of raising $50,000 cash as well as 200,000 pounds of food during July.

The money is much needed and can turn into much more, according to Lavers, who said the food bank can turn a one dollar donation into three dollars of food with their buying power.

Despite what Lavers calls excellent support from the business community, the food bank has fallen short of the its goals during July in each of the past three years.

“Part of that is people are out enjoying the summer and their heads are elsewhere,” she said.

“We are competing with summer when people are out having fun.

“And there is a lot of competition in the charitable sector here locally. There are lots of people looking for help.”

That competition is another reason the food bank is trying to be creative in its fundraising campaigns and partnering with business.

Among the initiatives this month is a fill-the-truck event on July 13 and 14 at the Kelowna  Walmart parking lot where people can donate food or cash.

Oranj Fitness is organizing what it calls the largest outdoor yoga class July 14, 9:30 a.m. start, at Stuart Park where participants can bring along a food bank donation.

And the entrance fee to the Okanagan Caribbean Festival at City Park, July 20, noon to 9 p.m.,  will be a donation to the food bank.

Lavers says even when the economy struggles, local businesses still find time to help them out.

“There are more and more businesses that come on each year,” she said.

“As some businesses struggle we are able to find new ones to help us out.”

Cash donations and food are also helping the food bank expand its nutritional programs for families and kids.

This year, the healthy snacks program for school aged kids has expanded to include kids in need up to 15-years-of age. No longer is everyone who uses the food bank given the same food as Lavers says they have tailored items to people with diabetes and are always trying to offer healthier alternatives.

She also said there is more fresh produce coming in from area farmers and from residents who have taken to growing a row of fresh produce in their garden and donating that to the food bank.

With a never-ending demand for food, Lavers thanks the business community and individuals for continuing to help and for supporting the Christmas in July program.

“It’s so great to see the community continue to support the Christmas in July campaign,” she said.

“We look forward to continued support from everyone. Get into the season of sharing, put on your Christmas hat in July and support your food bank.”

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Although the Kelowna Community Food Bank has been running its Christmas in July campaign for several years, the last three years have seen the food bank fall short of its targeted goals in terms of money and food donations.

To make up for that windfall, the Kelowna food bank has been receiving food from the Calgary Food Bank to help support families in the Kelowna area.

This year was no different as the food bank received a shipment of food from Calgary, just prior to the Alberta floods.

“We can’t say enough about that support,” said Vonnie Lavers, Kelowna Community Food Bank executive director.

“We just received a much-needed shipment from Calgary prior to the floods. We pass our best wishes on to the great people of Calgary.”

Helping smaller food banks across Western Canada is something that the Calgary Food Bank does on a regular basis, although with the emergency situation in Alberta, demand is much higher locally than in other years.

Calgary is able to help out other food banks in part because of the corporate support they receive from companies in the food distribution business.

“Many large food companies are based in Calgary,” said Shawna Ogston, Calgary Food Bank communications coordinator.

“We benefit  from strong industry support and our corporate partners ask that the surplus food goes where it is needed most.”

kparnell@kelownacapnews.com

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