The last two years have ushered in some significant changes in how the Swan Hills Food Bank (SHFB) and Santa’s Elves (the SHFB also administers the Santa’s Elves program) have operated, but these changes have proven to be positive adjustments. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and public health concerns, the SHFB moved to accepting monetary donations over accepting food donations in 2020 and 2021 to reduce the number of items being directly handled by multiple people. The funds collected were then used to purchase gift cards for local Swan Hills businesses, which were then given to the families receiving support instead of food hampers and donated toys.
The transition to offering support through gift cards went very smoothly. The reduction in direct contact and possible transmission of illnesses offered protection to the families receiving support and the SHFB volunteers, some of whom have health conditions and are at higher risk. The SHFB also found an unexpected development as the program continued to operate in this manner; they started to receive very positive feedback from the program recipients. The families receiving support had found that being able to purchase the grocery items that best suited their individual needs with a gift card worked very well. The same held true for toys purchased with gift cards from Santa’s Elves. As a bonus, with all of the food and gifts being purchased in Swan Hills, the donated funds go right back into the community.
On further reflection, these developments make logical sense. Even with the kind-hearted best of intentions one might have in selecting food items or toys to donate towards offering families a hand up, it still ends up being a best guess at what might be most helpful. The families themselves know which groceries will be most suited to their needs and preferences, and now they can use the provided gift cards to purchase what they need. The parents are also the experts on which toys will be a hit with their children.
As SHFB volunteer Laurie Sperling explains, “Any donation is very much appreciated, but if the children are receiving something that they wanted, that the parents were able to specifically pick out, that makes for a better morning in my mind.”
The past year has brought other changes as well. A common theme in multiple articles from various news outlets recently has been that food banks across Canada are seeing higher usage rates in 2022 than in years before the pandemic due to factors including high inflation, gas prices, and low rates of social assistance. The SHFB is also experiencing higher numbers of families needing help.
People seeking assistance from the SHFB need to be Swan Hills residents and have lived here for at least two months. New residents can access the food bank two times in their first year as residents of Swan Hills. Otherwise, the SHFB can be accessed by Swan Hills residents every second month.
The SHFB is a volunteer organization and is 100% donation based. They are always looking for new members. Confidentiality is essential for people looking to volunteer, as is the absence of judgment when assisting others.
“As the amount of residents in Swan Hills increases, so does the need for the food bank and Santa’s Elves. We are a very grateful volunteer committee because the generosity of the residents and companies in Swan Hills and their donations allow us to meet the need of the families in the community.” Laurie said.
Anyone looking to donate to the SHFB (and/or Santa’s Elves) can do so at the ATB branch downtown or by mail (Box 742, Swan Hills, AB, T0G 2C0). There is also a donation box at the Swan Hills Super A.
Dean LaBerge, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grizzly Gazette