Carol Common packs a Christmas hamper at the food bank last week.

Carol Common packs a Christmas hamper at the food bank last week.

A day in the life of the food bank’s Christmas hamper program

A look at the Community Connections Food Bank's Christmas hamper program.

Two cans of vegetables. Two cans of fruit.

I slide my box down the table.

Pork and beans. Tomatoes. Pasta sauce.

I move down a little bit more.

Tuna. Cranberry sauce. Canned milk. The list goes on.

Eventually I’ve filled up a Christmas hamper for a single male, someone who needs the support of the Community Connections Food Bank to enjoy a full meal on Christmas.

I spent a few hours one morning last week while about 10 volunteers for the food bank filled up hampers and did other work as the organization got ready for the busiest time of year.

Linda Banks, a volunteer for the past two years, was put in charge of training me. She is a client of the food bank.

“I live on a very small pension and without it I probably wouldn’t be eating very well,” she told me. She said Patti Larson, the executive director of the food bank, encouraged her to volunteer.

“I enjoy it. It gives me something to do and you meet lots of interesting people,” Banks said. “I can’t work. This is it for me.”

The Christmas hamper program is well organized. There are lists indicating how many of each item a family gets. The numbers depend on the size of the family so a single person gets two cans of vegetables while a family of four gets four cans.

All the food is lined up on a table in the order its listed, so packing a hamper is as simple as going down the table. The tricky part is getting everything to fit inside the box.

“We want it to be neat,” said Banks.

The food that goes into a hamper is pretty basic – in addition to the items mentioned above, there’s canned tuna, pasta, peanut butter, oatmeal, hot chocolate, rice, macaroni & cheese, carrots, potatoes and oranges. A single person gets a can of ham while a family gets a voucher for a turkey at Cooper’s.

The hampers are topped up with goods collected during food drives. In my first hamper, Banks placed a can of Campbell’s Nourished soup, a bag of popcorn and a package of Sidekicks Spanish rice.

There will also be a table of extra items that people can choose from – things like jam, barbecue sauce or soup.

This Christmas, the food bank is dividing up the remainder of the bounty from the Emergency Services food drive held in September. I was surprised to learn that some expired food was donated and that occasionally people donate half-empty bottles of ketchup.

“We have to be careful about what goes in the hampers,” said Larson. “If it’s something we wouldn’t eat, we wouldn’t give it to people.

“If you won’t eat it yourself, then don’t donate it,” she added.

After the first hamper, I packed two more. One was for a family of four – a single mother with three children. The other was for a family of three – a mother and two kids.

Ahead of me on the production line was Deb Thibeault. She used to work at PT Market and helped pack up produce for the food bank until the market closed down earlier this year. When that happened, she came to volunteer at the food bank.

Behind me was Carol Common, Larson’s cousin who helped start Revelstoke’s first food bank in the mid-80s. That food bank ran from 1986 to 1988, she said, before it closed. The food bank was started up again 11 years ago.

After packing the three hampers I joined the volunteers for a snack. Linda Banks had baked some butter tarts and there were chocolate brownies available too. As we sat down, we talked about why they volunteered there and what it was like during the Christmas season. Many of them are clients, so they know what it’s like coming to the basement of the Legion for help every week.

It’s about “knowing you’re helping,” said Gladys Dyer.

“Knowing people will have a meal to eat,” added Common.

“I like arguing with Patti,” jokes Bernie Scott, a volunteer for 10 years.

A hamper for a single person costs about $40-$50, estimated Larson. She wasn’t sure of the cost of larger hampers but did say the food bank spent about $10,000 on groceries to stock them. Like last year, donations are down, Larson said.

So far 130 applications have been submitted for hampers and Larson expects that number to reach around 200 by Christmas.

Before I left I spoke to Roger Bertrand, who was looking over a table full of toys. The toys are another service offered by the food bank and families can sign up to receive gifts to give out.

The volunteers spend three days per week filling out hampers. That’s on top of the regular Friday work at the food bank. The hampers are given out starting this week and by that time they’ll have packed about 200 boxes full of food.