When the North Saanich Fire Department started collecting food donations during the holiday season 19 years ago, their contribution made a significant impact to the local food bank, but they knew they could up the ante – and so they did.
Now, for the third consecutive year in partnership with the Sidney and Central Saanich fire departments, the Peninsula Firefighters Food Drive returns Dec. 15 to collect donations of both food and financial assistance to benefit the Saanich Peninsula Lions Food Bank.
“I think we see with the price of housing in the community in general, you can’t help but see the need is getting bigger and the pressure on the food bank is getting more,” says Brian Thomas of the North Saanich department.
A week before the collection date, members of the fire departments will drop grocery bags on the doorsteps of North Saanich residents. If they feel so inclined and are able, filling the bags with donations of food and toiletries is encouraged.
On Dec. 15, all three departments will haul out the fire trucks for a massive pickup initiative.
“It’s the good people of the community that donate the food,” Thomas is quick to point out. “We’re just the collectors and we love to do it.”
— North Saanich Fire (@dns_fire) November 30, 2018
The annual drive is so successful – filling 20 extra pallets on the food bank shelves – that executive director Bev Elder says the haul often gets the 1,000 people who regularly access the food bank each month, through to early spring.
Once the weather gets cold, donations increase, Elder says, but that doesn’t mean the need isn’t there year-round as evidenced by the ever-increasing operation, run in a number of locations since 1984.
“That just takes a lot of the pressure off,” Elder says of the drive. “We have a high number of seniors coming through the door now.”
More than 13 per cent of the food bank’s clientele is over the age of 65 and Elder notes that number is rising.
“Most people are okay,” she says. “But, if they lose a partner, pensions are disappearing, and housing out here is not cheap.”
Rick Toogood, of the Sidney Fire Department, says participating in the drive for 11 years, he has seen first hand there is no shortage of need on the Peninsula.
“My sense is that over the years, the demographic has changed,” he says. “I don’t know that there is a real stereotypical idea of who uses the food bank anymore. It crosses all ages and backgrounds.”
In Sidney and Central Saanich, crews will also comb neighbourhoods on Dec. 15 for collection.
Folks are also encouraged to donate cloth or canvas bags if they are on hand, as well as items like toilet paper, feminine hygiene products or even toothpaste.
“No one thinks about donating that but they’re not necessarily low cost items yet they’re things that everybody needs,” Toogood says.
The direct impact people in the community can have on their neighbour is what keeps Toogood involved in such an important event, showing those in need they have support.
“It always tugs at your heart a little bit,” he says. “It doesn’t matter whether we get one can or 1,000 cans. It’s the presence and just being out there.”
The Peninsula Firefighters Food Drive collects food, cash or cheque donations – made payable to the Saanich Peninsula Lions Food Bank.