The Cowichan Valley Basket Society feeds at least 1,000 people every month, and that number is increasing daily.
“We serve every population in the valley. We see families, seniors, and all ages,” said CVBS manager Henry Wikkerink. “Recent statistics from BC’s Centre for Disease Control show that one in seven people experience food insecurity.”
The mandate of the society is to ensure that not one family, or individual in the valley goes hungry — physically, spiritually or emotionally.
It was founded in 1988 through the dedication of a group of valley residents who saw a great need for a coordinated answer to end hunger in the area and to assist those who regularly live with food insecurity.
One doesn’t have to be unhoused to fit into this category, as it applies to anyone who struggles to afford and buy nutritious food for their household. As the cost of living has risen healthy grocery purchases can take a backseat to other vital and ongoing expenses such as housing, utilities, and clothing.
“It’s a place for those suffering and experiencing food insecurity can come and find some solutions whether that’s a food hamper or a hot lunch if needed,” said Wikkerink. “We do our lunch program six days a week inside, and have a volunteer who does it out of her backyard on Sundays.”
The society has 80 volunteers each week recover food from every grocery store in the Cowichan Valley, enabling them to supply nutritious food hampers for anyone who feels they are unable to provide nourishing and healthy food options for themselves, and their family.
“This is so important, we want a balanced hamper,” said Wikkerink. “Our hampers have a lot of non-perishable items but having fresh bread and fruit and vegetables is so important because we all know grocery stores are getting more expensive all the time.”
Each hamper supplies a week’s worth of food and is created specifically for each person’s needs, and those of their family. Hampers are distributed from 9:50 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tuesday to Friday. Those who are unable to pick up their hampers during regular hours can take advantage of their special Saturday pickup if they are pre-ordered. Full hampers are given out to those in need once every 30 days, but in addition the CVBS has fresh fruit, veggies, and bread available during their regular operating hours each day.
“Any given month through our hamper program we hand out 500 hampers, which represents 1,000 people,” said Wikkerink. “Over the last four months we’ve seen between 50 and 75 new registrations each month. Those numbers might not make sense but not everybody comes every month. It’s full choice shopping, so they can choose whatever they want in their grocery list. I would say 70 per cent of our hampers go to individuals living in a residence. With the rent increases that have happened over the last few years, a lot of people can barely pay their rent so they are forced to choose between food and housing, and of course it’s easier to let the food go, so they count on us.”
There is a list of 60 items that those in need can choose from. To make an appointment for a hamper call the office at 250 746-1566. The operating hours of CVBS are from 8:30 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Coffee and muffins are available first thing in the morning, and on colder days porridge is served. Lunch is served between 11 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. and those stopping by for a meal can either eat in the society’s outdoor area, or their dining room that seats 30 people.
“We average about 220 lunches a day that we serve to the community,” said Wikkerink. “It’s a hot lunch and contains a sandwich and a main course and that could be shepherds pie, stew, or turkey or ham and potatoes. So it’s a good balanced meal with some vegetables thrown into it, and we make all that from food recovery. It changes from day to day, it all depends on what items we receive from the community. There is also the social aspect here, people come to meet their friends for coffee, and have a little bit of support for each other.”
The society always appreciates food items, and online donations and is currently in need of re-usable cloth bags to use for both their hampers and lunch program. Going forward the society looks to continue developing their programming, and hope to one day have a bigger facility.
“My lifelong goal has always been about helping people get a step up in life,” said Wikkerink. “It’s a complex problem but to me it’s about building relationships with the community of people that come to the food bank, and just encouraging them to make some good decisions each day that will make their life better. We always hope that people leave feeling they have been cared for, and that someone cares for them each day. We are here to help them get to the next step, and our goal is that they get through whatever challenges they are facing and become a full member of society again.”