(Above) Jennifer Stopsen, Sandi Huss, Dale Mannix, Olga Horaska and Shirley Mannix are busy stocking the shelves inside the room that A Better World Canada renovated. Photo by Laura Tester.
By LAURA TESTER
Down the stairs of an old church basement, people came with their food deliveries.
Deliverers cartloads of groceries up and down the stairs while volunteers stock shelves inside the windowless basement of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Sylvan Lake. It wasn’t the most convenient or easiest place to go to.
With support from A Better World Canada, the Sylvan Lake Food Bank opened new doors inside a modular unit rented through the Town of Sylvan Lake. Using financial donations and volunteers through ABW’s Neighbours program, the new food bank next to Four Seasons Park was ready to go the end of June.
The renovation project took two months.
The new site is far different from where it used to be — down in the basement of the old part of the church. The food bank is a ministry of the Adventist church run in co-operation with other Sylvan Lake churches and businesses.
“It was dark and spread out over about three rooms whereas here (in the new place) the food bank is all in one place,” said pastor Bill Spangler.
Long-time food bank volunteer Pam Towers remarked the new site is much brighter with ease of access for everyone.
“I don’t know if we have double the amount of space (as before) but it’s a more convenient setup,” said Towers. “We do have lots of parking and for anyone delivering, they can back right up to the door. Even for people picking up…we can load them up right where they’re making the hampers, wheel the (supplies on a trolley) to the car and back again.”
Volunteers converted several of the rooms formerly used by a preschool. Besides changing the washroom’s kiddie toilet to a larger one, they also built a kitchen, office, front desk and food storage space.
Another room at the food bank will also need renovations, but it’s still being determined how the space will be used, said Towers.
The food bank volunteers are pleased with the more practical space.
“There’s so much light,” said volunteer Shirley Mannix, who had just finished stocking shelves. “It’s much more convenient.”
Originally, the church wasn’t even thinking of the Neighbours program.
Church elder Stan Bell said they cinched “a really good deal” from the municipality to rent the unit and while the church could have found another way to finance the renovations, it was so glad when ABW came through, he added.
“To me, it was a godsend,” Bell said. “I had approached a member of our church and said ‘would you be interested in managing this project’ because I knew he was involved with A Better World.”
Scott Tataryn was the one who suggested Neighbours. Launched in 2012, Neighbours has helped families with much needed renovations including those for a seriously ill girl in 2016.
Neighbours project co-ordinator Ronda Ziakris said the program receives about five applications a year through word of mouth.
“A Better World really put an emphasis on Canada’s 150th birthday and reaching out to communities,” Ziakris said. “So we felt, if there was a year where we could have an impact on the community at large versus an individual family, this would be the year to do that.”
The new food bank comes at a time when demand is growing.
Last year, the food bank supplied more than 900 hampers. From January to late August, it’s already distributed 683 hampers.
“It’s very gratifying knowing that you have helped put in a new home for a community food bank,” replied Ziakris. “It was desperately needed.”
On average, a project can run from $60,000 to $80,000. For the food bank, it was an estimated $15,000.
ABW commits $10,000 a year towards a Neighbours project — a budget that’s only been dipped in once. Instead, organizers are able to get enough materials and financial donations, as well as volunteer labour.
As part of the deal, the food bank was required to cover any shortfall, which ended up being only $200 once all the donations came in, she added.
Normally, when ABW is renovating a family home, all is covered.
“It truly is a grace gift,” said Ziakris.
None of the Neighbours committee is fulltime, so the members have no time to fundraise consistently.
Volunteering is key to the project. About 40 people were involved with the food bank project, including labourers and lunch makers.
For Ziakris, this is a real labour of love.
She was motivated to get a local project going with A Better World Canada because with her job as a principal of four small schools, it isn’t easy to travel to overseas projects that ABW is a part of.
Plus, she wanted to help based on her own family experience and what some other families must go through. Her and her husband Loney can care for their 11-year-old disabled son Stephen, but she knows there are others who can’t do the same.
“It’s heartbreaking of how many families who have fallen through the cracks,” said Ziakris, who also has a 14-year-old daughter.
Ziakris was watching Extreme Home Makeover on television when it sparked an idea. The rest is history.
“I think people need to find their ‘why’ and get involved by answering that question. Find the fit and just do it.”