Comox Valley Food Bank – 35 years of feeding the Valley

The Comox Valley Food Bank turns 35 years old on Dec. 19, and one person has been there for virtually its entire existence.

Jeff Hampton started volunteering at the CVFB on Jan. 2, 1984 – two weeks after the doors first opened.

“I would have been there right at the beginning but I was working at Santa’s Toyshop in December,” said Hampton, who has been president of the Comox Valley Food Bank Society since 2006. “I remember going in there and asking if there was anything I could do. They told me they had to move the food bank and asked if I could help them. Turns out they were moving down onto Anderton Avenue, in the same building where the Toyshop had been. So I switched jobs but I ended up in the same building.”

He has been with the food bank ever since.

A Comox Valley Food Bank volunteer helps distribute food at the McPhee Avenue location. Record file photo

The Comox Valley Food Bank has had many homes in its 35-year existence.

From Anderton Avenue, the CVFB moved to 143 Fourth St., until that building was torn down to make room for the Filberg Centre.

From there, the CVFB went to the 1100 block of Piercy Avenue.

“We were at that location for 21 years,” said Hampton. “We went from there to River Heights Church, for maybe six or eight months, then we went to Habitat For Humanity, who didn’t have a place either. So Habitat bought the building at 13th and Edgett, and we moved in with them for about three years, then we found the building where we are now.”

The Comox Valley Food Bank has been at 1491 McPhee Ave. since August of 2012.

It services clientele from Cook Creek to Oyster River.

Hampton estimates they see approximately 1,000 clients a month.

Wednesday, Dec. 5 was the busiest single day in the history of the Comox Valley Food Bank.

A total of 472 hampers were distributed.

“We had one day a few months ago where we handed out 400, and before that, the previous high was 382, but that was many years ago,” said Hampton.

Wednesday’s distribution was to feed 225 households, comprising 390 adults and 151 children.

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Volunteers were kept busy before the concert at Simms Park Sunday night, as a steady stream of people dropped off food bank donations. The initiative resulted in 2,000 pounds of food being collected. Photo by Erica Farrell

How it started

Hampton credits Lois Elliot for getting the Comox Valley Food Bank off the ground.

“She went around to all the different social agencies in the Valley, trying to find someone who wanted to start a food bank,” said Hampton.

After several rejections, Elliot approached Phil Frost, the co-ordinator at the Comox Valley Action Centre.

“The two of them organized it and the food bank opened on Dec. 19, 1983, on Grant Avenue,” said Hampton, who estimated there were 90 customers on the first day of business.

“There was quite a mixed reaction at the start,” said Hampton. “A lot of people felt really ill-at-ease coming in.

“When the food bank first started, it was focused on feeding unemployed union people, but then we changed focus, to feeding the poor.”

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Early challenges

Hampton said the change of focus brought with it a change of attitude, not only from clientele, but from the community at large.

“It was a challenge at first [getting businesses on board],” said Hampton. “Our first president was Andy Jackson. He would go over to Safeway every morning. They would have a shelf full of marked down bread, and a shelf full of fresh bread. He said, ‘Why not give us your marked down bread, and that way you can sell your fresh bread at full price?’ Andy would get the bread from Safeway, and go door-to-door, delivering bread to people who needed it.”

Once Safeway committed, Quality Foods and Thrifty Foods also became involved.

Hampton said the original hesitation had to do with liability – the big corporations were concerned about repercussions should anyone get ill from donated food.

The Food Donor Encouragement Act passed in B.C. in 1997 addressed those concerns, protecting donors from damages resulting from injury or death caused by the consumption of said food, as long as the food is given out in good faith.

The evolution of the local food bank continued with the addition of walk-in coolers, affording merchants the opportunity to provide fresh produce and other such perishable items.

“When we got refrigeration put in, that allowed us to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the grocery stores, that we could pick up [perishable] food, transport it in our refrigerated vehicle, then get it into our refrigeration units at the food bank,” said Hampton.

Community involvement

Over the years, food bank drives and fundraisers have become increasingly prominent in the Comox Valley.

“We used to cut firewood with our volunteers and sell it to raise money to buy food – that was back in 1984, 1985,” said Hampton. “We started charity baseball games, charity hockey games. We did a walk-a-thon one year. And a lot of groups and organizations do fundraisers for us.”

The Thanksgiving food drive, a province-wide initiative with its roots in Burnaby, is a major contributor.

This year, nearly five tons of food was collected during the promotion.

The First Tuesday Fundraiser at the Mex Pub has been running for 11 years. The food bank, as well as a performer-chosen charity, benefit each month.

The Record receives photos and write-ups nearly every week from individuals or organizations making donations of food, or money, to the food bank.

Comox Valley Food Bank president Jeff Hampton (left) accepts a truckload of donations from Haley Tufts (wearing toque), with Tyson Tufts, Darin Tufts and Tony Fontin also on hand to help with the unloading. Photo submit

This past summer, the Simms Concert Series got involved, making the final outdoor concert of the season a food bank fundraiser.

More than 2,000 pounds of food was collected in two hours.

“The Valley is pretty amazing – the amount of people who care, share, and pass it forward always amazes me,” said Hampton.

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A staple in the Valley

Hampton said what was originally planned as a temporary measure has become a staple in the Comox Valley.

“The food banks were only supposed to be in existence for six months – they were supposed to be a political statement – and no matter which government is in power, it’s still an embarrassment to them, the fact that food banks have become a necessary part of life,” said Hampton. “But the other part of that, the change of attitude worldwide, with wasted food in landfills, has been a good thing. There has been a refocus around the world about food waste. Instead of it being thrown out, we have become like a recycling centre. We are recycling food and handing out was is still good, to enhance people’s diet and enhance their health. So there are some positives about it.”

Hampton said the important thing for people to realize is that the food bank is there to help.

“Over the years I have had people who wait all day, then come in at the very end, so people don’t see them,” he said. “It used to be it was just the jobless coming in. Now we see more and more of the working poor. People who are working part-time, full-time, or self-employed, and still cannot make ends meet. But the whole message we want to get out there is we don’t turn people away and we are always here to help.”

 

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