Lightbulbs, crockpots, toilet paper, and an immense appreciation for residents of Whitecourt

·5 min read

On Saturday, December 4, the big tree in front of the Whitecourt Town Office will be glowing with red and green bulbs all over it to kick start the evening’s parade. The lights on the tree signify a donation to the Whitecourt Food Bank as part of a long-standing fundraiser. Whitecourt Food Bank Director Lori Coffey has been with the organization for sixteen years and said, “we’ve been doing it forever, and we rely on it.”

Residents can purchase a light for $20, which supports the Whitecourt Food Bank. Lights are either red or green, with the green ones signifying in memoriam. “If you put in for an in-memoriam bulb and you drive by the tree, you know that what you’ve paid helps the food bank, and you remember your loved one at the same time. It’s a neat thing, and it’s a treasured Whitecourt tradition.”

Staff do all they can to stretch each dollar as far as possible. The tree event is a big part of that. “It helps keep us open. It’s all those little, tiny things that come together to make us happen. It’s very helpful to us, and the visual part of it remains for a while so you can see what your money did and that you are helping the community,” said Coffey, about the tree remaining lit for several weeks.

As the holidays continue, residents are urged to remember the Whitecourt Food Bank as they plan their activities. “There are drop boxes at events like Dionne’s light up in Woodlands County. Keep those in mind and bring some items along with you to donate. Whatever you can do is helping us.” Coffey said that if she had a wish list of items to be donated, she would wish for ham and turkeys for Christmas. “That’s not something we normally get, but I would love to be able to include that.”

One item that Coffey regularly asks for is toiletries. “We can’t afford to buy them, but they are so needed. Households need toiletries when we are stocking them up with food. It’s important. I always ask to keep that as a top priority because I’ll always buy food, but I’ll never buy toiletries.” One item they regularly run out of is deodorant. “We never have enough. We also need feminine products and things like shampoo and conditioner. Those are expensive, and when your house runs out of food, all those things run out too.”

Coffey said that she and the staff always try and make their clients whole again. “We want you to be able to go home and function for a couple of weeks. That’s our goal. We try and make sure we take care of as much as possible, to the best of our abilities.”

As for the need in town, Coffey said that things are continuing to rise. One of her programs, the perishable boxes, are given out almost daily, and they are gone within a minute because people are standing outside waiting for their chance to get one. “The need has increased, and I watch it every day that I work. We’re just trying to meet those needs the best that we can. We are doing ok right now, but I’m worried about January. It’s not going to be pretty because all the benefits are cut off, and lots of people aren’t working.”

Coffey said she needs to stay prepared for what the new year brings. “I don’t see the need declining anytime soon. I need to be prepared and stocked up, and ready for these things. If we get hit hard in a month, I have to be able to handle that and make sure everyone is taken care of.” Those looking to donate something a little extra for the season could throw some small presents for children. Coffey said she uses those to add to boxes throughout the year when there is a birthday. She said that’s something they do that’s a bit extra but that they appreciate receiving those little things.

“Whitecourt is an amazing community. They make sure that we are supported, businesses and people. I have to show my gratitude for the support we receive from the community because it’s really strong. It needs to be said. It’s on point.”

Recently, the food bank received an influx of toilet paper from Ecole St. Joseph School after their annual fundraiser. “Those students give us enough toilet paper for the year through that fundraiser. It’s awesome! Other schools do cereal drives which are huge for us. They are the ones that come up with these ideas, not me. It’s so incredible because it takes such a burden off of us.”

Coffey said that she had just wrapped up a grant-funded project that enabled her to purchase crock pots for isolated or elderly in the community. “We thought that giving them crockpots would be a good idea. The kit included a crockpot, utensils, measuring cups, peelers, spatulas, a cookbook and then a bag of food and a bag of meat.” She said thanks to a great deal on products from Mike at Canadian Tire, she provided a complete kit to 75 people. “This was one of my favourite projects I’ve ever done. That’s more proof of what this town does. Mike took care of me there at the store so that I could help other people. It’s a beautiful thing.”

Coffey said they knew from their clientele who would benefit most from the grant opportunity and that once the names were figured out, they delivered them. “I’m welling up all the time. It’s a good feeling, and I’m happy that I could make their day. It brings me joy.”

Serena Lapointe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Whitecourt Press

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