Food bank spreads a little Christmas cheer

On Wednesday, approximately 600 food hampers were distributed to individuals and families in West Kelowna.

Food bank volunteers Ray Thorne and Tiffany (last name not provided) load up a card with food for the holidays for a client at Wednesday's food hamper distribution in West Kelowna.

The Central Okanagan Food Bank spread a little early Christmas joy Wednesday with the annual distribution of approximately 600 special yuletide food hampers.

The hampers, with enough food to help individuals, couples as well as large or small families get through the holidays, also included small stocking-stuffer type toys as well as clothing items recipients were allowed to pick out.

“This year we are seeing about the same need as last year on the Westside,” said food bank executive director Lenetta Parry. But she said in Kelowna, where the Christmas hampers will be available next week, the number is up.

While the 600 hampers in West Kelowna will feed an estimated 900 people over the holidays, in Kelowna, this Christmas will see 1,400 hampers handed out, enough to feed an estimated 3,000 people.

For people like West Kelowna’s Soren Jensen, a journeyman carpenter who has been out of work due to an injury, the food bank is a life-saver at this time of year.

“This means everything for us,” he said as held the hand of his two-year-old daughter Kaianna. His wife, with their seven-month-old baby was also there.

“If it was not for the food bank, I don’t know if we would survive,” said Jensen.

And the assistance is not something either he or his wife will soon forget. He said his wife has already decided to volunteer with the food bank and once he is back working, the family plans to donate to show their gratitude for the help the food bank has given them this holiday season.

That same sense of gratitude was expressed by others picking up food Wednesday.

One lady, a single mom with three children aged 7, 11 and 13, who is also out of work after being injured on the job, said the food bank is a lifeline for her family this year.

“It’s vital for my family—for all of us,” she said. “This makes a huge difference in our lives.”

Parry said while Christmas is is a time many think of donating to the food bank, the need is there all year round and she asked the community not to forget that.

“Without the community and our volunteers, there’s no way we could all this,”she said.

The food bank relies on an army of about 150 volunteers to help collect, sort, and distribute food. At the hamper pick-up,the food bank has staff available to help recipients load up a shopping cart of supplies, help them out to their vehicle, or, if they do not have a ride home, provide one.

This year, the food bank has teamed up with a local program called Kelowna Santas, which is collecting toys for children this Christmas.

Parry said many people bring toys to the food bank at this time of year and as part of the partnership, the food bank is turning them over the Kelowna Santas, who will wrap and distribute the toys to food bank client families just before Christmas day.

“Working with our partners allows us to do what we do best—collect and distribute food— and for them to do what they do best,” she said.