Food bank celebrates 25 years in a generous community


Not many of us have crossed the ominous threshold into a food bank.

So who does, and why? And what does it feel like to open yourself up to receiving donated food?

Volunteers at the Killarney and Area Food Bank at 715 Mountain Avenue have made it about more than just picking up a hamper of canned goods, frozen meat, and bakery items.

They have also created a climate of inclusion and comfort, with a spotless and comfortable waiting room, complete with washroom and reading material for their 40-plus clients who turn up on Friday afternoons.

“It’s our mission to give nutritious food to people who need it,” says Petchie Hawkins, treasurer and volunteer for the food bank. “We get all kinds of people: single people, people with kids, seniors. There’s no kind of stereotypical food bank user. And don’t kid yourself that there aren’t people who need help. Some people are earning the minimum wage, and their rent is $800 a month. That doesn’t leave much. All kinds of people need food.”

This month the food bank celebrated 25 years of helping the community with a bit of an anniversary party and a glorious cake.

And over those years, the community has generously helped them back, they said.

“This food bank would not be in this great condition today without the hard work of those people in the early days,” said Hawkins. “People like George and Helen Dyck, Audrey Feader, and Don Watson. We have this incredible, awesome food bank because of them. And this community is amazing in their generosity. I think we have such a great and successful food bank, and it’s thanks to them. They care. I am so thankful we have this.”

The food bank, with its shelves of tinned goods, freezers, a cold store, and assembly areas for clients to fill their hampers, runs on a budget of around $850 per week.

That equals 14 hampers of food most weeks, tailored carefully for each client , or for a client family’s needs.

The recipients turn up for the 3:30 p.m. collection, usually bringing their own bags or boxes for filling, said Hawkins.

“Some come once a week, some come once a month, or every three months, or even every six months,” she said. “We get a surge in the winter months; I don’t know why. Some people walk down, some bring a wagon. Some people will carpool.”

Picking up their client cards, they then move around the food areas to pick up their allotted amounts of things like tinned beans and fish, milk, meat, bread, pasta, and peanut butter.

And Hawkins is looking forward to offering them something more.

“We are starting a lending library that would include small kitchen appliances, canning supplies, a mixer, or a crock pot,” she said. “I would even like to have a crock pot simmering, so that on Friday clients could come in and try a cup of soup. Clients could borrow an appliance to try it out at home, and learn some new cooking skills. They may decide to keep the appliance.”

Mark Ireland, volunteer and vice-chair of the food bank board – and also Hawkin’s brother-in-law – said he wished that people in need would come sooner to the local Food Bank, instead of accumulating expensive debt.

“I think that a lot of people would run up credit card debt, rather than call us for help,” he said. “If someone has a need, we are here to help. It may only be short term, or it could be longer.”

Ireland added that three quarters of the food on the shelves came from local donations.

“The other quarter comes from cash donations, from Killarney businesses, and from organizations like the Killarney Foundation, and Youth in Philanthropy,” he said. “Dubs at the Lake asked for food donations, and a lot of people forgot to bring them along, and put money in instead. That was wonderful.”

The charity is run entirely by volunteers, and 90 per cent of the donations go directly towards stocking the foodstuffs, while the remaining 10 per cent goes towards operation and running costs for the building.

“That is very good for a charity,” said Ireland. “And it’s because we are all volunteers here that we can keep costs down.”

The Killarney and Area Food Bank draws in clients from Killarney-Turtle Mountain, Prairie Lakes (including Dunrea), Ninette, Belmont, Baldur and Cartwright.

They have a website, at, which includes an email address for contacting them, and also a Facebook page.

There is also a toll-free number to call, at 1-888-280-5950.

“You can call that number, and leave a message,” said Hawkins. “Someone will call you back within 24 hours. Sometimes it’s just a few minutes.”

Local churches will also put people in touch with the food bank, she added.

Clients will then meet up with Hawkins at the food bank to set up their client card, or she takes information over the phone, she said.

“We fill out the information we need, such as the phone number, any special dietary needs, food allergies, their address or box number, and the name and birthday of any children in the household, because the food distribution is based on the age of the children. We also need to see their Manitoba Health card.”

So does Hawkins worry that people take advantage of the Food Bank generosity?

“You have to have a level of trust when you work in this arena,” she said. “If you have a suspicious heart, it won’t work. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Of course there can be bad apples, but I have yet to see a bad apple in this food bank.”

Hawkins says they are always looking for quality items on sale, and deal locally as much as possible.

“The Hutterite Colonies are a wonderful source for us,” she said. “And they have their own philosophy of giving. It’s a whole way of life for them.”

Ireland said they also tried to spend the money at home.

“We try to buy local,” he said. “We want to help the community by buying supplies from them.”

To donate a small kitchen appliance, you can drop it off at 200 North Railway (leave it under mailbox outside the house).

To donate food – especially items such as peanut butter, pasta sauce, ground meat or chicken, canned fruit, or oatmeal, rice, pasta, flour, and whole grains – drop the items off at local churches, in a collection area set aside for the food bank.

“Consider what you would buy for yourself,” said Hawkins. “Healthy alternatives are good. But we take everything.”

The Killarney Food Bank is also seeking a few extra volunteers to help on hamper day, to assist clients in filling their hampers.

“We also need a new board member or two,” said Hawkins. “We would like to have one of our clients join the board.”

You can call the toll-free number at 1-888-280-5950 for more information on donating, to get in touch with a board member,  or to find out more about getting involved with the food bank.

LONG SERVICE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT – Several members of the Killarney Food Bank volunteer board have put in many years of service. Above, Doris Hiscock (secretary extraordinaire) has served for 12 years, while other members include Don Watson (24 years), Helen Dyck (23 years), George Dyck (20 years), Audrey Feader (18 years), Brenda Klassen (14 years), and Dorothy Martens (four years).

CELEBRATING 25 YEARS OF KILLARNEY FOOD BANK – A gathering was held on Saturday, September 8, to celebrate 25 years of operation for the Killarney and Area Food Bank. Doris Hiscock (right) is charged with cutting the cake, while other board members, including Petchie Hawkins (left) show visitors around the tidy, well-organized building at 715 Mountain Avenue.