It’s been three decades of serving the community for staff and volunteers of the Red Deer Food Bank.
A barbecue was held last week to mark the occasion, and Fred Scaife, executive director of the operation, said it was a fitting time to both reflect on the past and look to the future as well.
Scaife recounted how back in the early 1980s, a need for the service surfaced with the impact of the federal government’s National Energy Program on Alberta.
“A food bank opened up in Edmonton, and shortly thereafter a group of people in Red Deer saw a need for one here as well,” he said. “In 1984, Red Deer had high unemployment – it was grim. So they opened this up as a temporary response to an immediate situation. And here we are 30 years later.”
Over the years, the food bank was located at various spots throughout the City.
“In the time I’ve been here, about 17 years, we’ve had two major moves.”
Even in the time at their current location, there’s been pressure to expand as the demand for their services grows, he said. But he’s been continually encouraged by the support of the community over the years.
“I’ve always appreciated the level of support that we get here in the community,” he said. He’s made even more aware of the local generosity when he visits other cities across the country and meets representatives from other food banks.
“I talk to my counterparts and I realize just how good that we do have it here; how phenomenally amazing our donor base in the city of Red Deer and across Central Alberta is,” he said. “We’ve had struggles – no doubt about it – but our struggles are lessened by the fact that this community, once they understand that we are in need of something, they have always responded in amazing fashion.
“I’m literally the envy of some of my counterparts across the country for the support that we have here.”
Typically, if there is an area of need at the food bank, it’s with cash donations. Food donations are pretty consistent, however.
“The reality is we are a very complex organization,” he explained. “When people get an insider’s look at what we do here, they start to understand.
“We have a structure here that involves shipping and receiving literally millions of dollars worth of food a year. We have 15,000 square feet of space that we occupy. We deal with 30 different agencies within the City and the immediate area. We deal with 20 different food banks in Central Alberta. Our footprint is about 22,000 square kilometres in Central Alberta,” he said.
This all means that having an army of volunteers and a set of qualified staff is critical to carrying out operations smoothly.
“A food bank is such a basic, social service that a lot of people – unless they see the inside – they don’t realize we are far from being a basic operation.”
These days, Scaife is relishing the fact he works for an organization that makes such a profound difference in so many people’s lives. He describes the anniversary event last week as both emotional and celebratory.
“When I walked through these doors 16 years ago, we were operating out of a little 2,500 square foot place with poor lighting and very substandard conditions. I had a vision at that time. One of the first things that struck me was that we should treat people better than this. The people we deal with deserve more than what we are providing.
“When I look around at the state of our organization 30 years after its birth, I am absolutely amazed and overwhelmed. I don’t think those people 30 years ago imagined what we could actually become. And that is a vital link to social services in the community. We liaise with virtually every organization in the City that deals with people on any level. We assist dozens of organizations right here within our City border in the way of helping their clients.
“I’ve been blessed with a supportive community and a board of directors, staff and volunteers that bought into the vision. We’ve managed to make it a reality.
“I thank God everyday for this community that has been so supportive, and that understands the mission we are on – how we try to help people and how they (the community) wants to be a part of that. If that’s not overwhelming and emotional to see year after year – let alone for 30 years – I don’t know what could be.”
The personal rewards of what he does are plentiful as well.
“Who wouldn’t want to help people? There are bad situations – horrific living conditions in some cases I’ve seen over the years. Things that have broken my heart.
“I feel grateful that we are able to assist people. I think that’s what drives me into this office everyday is that yes, we deal with terrible tragedies in our community but the reality is we are dealing with it.
“The sheer number of people that come together to help feed a family – if you live in that moment of the specialness of our community and this organization, I can’t ever see myself getting burned out.”
For more information about the Red Deer Food Bank Society, or to learn about volunteer opportunities, call 403-342-5355.