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Holidays see increased need at Outlook food bank

Volunteers see 'heartbreaking' reality during Christmas
Outlook Food Bank Tree
This giving tree at Prairie Centre Credit Union allows people to help the Outlook Food Bank. Photo: Outlook & District Food Bank Facebook page.

OUTLOOK - With the month of December now having arrived, attention now turns to Christmas and how people and their families will spend the upcoming holiday season.

But for many others, the holidays can bring with it a time of uneasiness and a sense of burden as they scramble in order to just put a hot meal on a plate in front of loved ones.

That's where community organizations such as the Outlook & District Food Bank come in, doing their part to try and eliminate such stress by providing nourishment to many people during this time of the year.  Chairperson Gail Borsa, who started as a secretary-treasurer and has been at the helm for a handful of years now, says the work being done by the food bank particularly during the holidays can be something of a mixed bag.

"It's rewarding, but it can be heartbreaking," said Gail, sharing some honesty that comes from her unique position in being involved behind the scenes.

The Outlook food bank's numbers have been increasing, she said, but the organization does its best to fulfill the needs that come forward.

"We just help whoever needs help," said Borsa.  "The numbers have been rising all year.  Between our regular hampers, which are the second-last Wednesday of every month, then we do emergency hampers too, and those have been rising this year."

As to why some people need the food bank's services, those kind of background stories can run the entire gamut of possibilities, but at the end of the day, it's not important to ask why someone needs the food bank, it's simply important that they need it at all.  It can be short-term work that runs out at the drop of a hat or new arrivals who are already on the 'just making it' scale, and whatever the case may be, Outlook seems to always be there for people.

"From the people who've been coming in, it's a factor of money and not making ends meet," said Gail.  "We've had seasonal workers that have lost their jobs and they're stuck here for a bit, so they come in and need a hand for a month or so.  We seem to have more people coming into town that are on the low end of the income scale."

When it comes to the holidays, Gail explains that the food bank does its best to make things extra special with the help of those in the community who provide.

"We do the Secret Santa, organizing and putting out the cards for that and taking in applications," she said.  "That's pretty much taken care of by the community and we're very grateful for their help.  We do put extras into the Christmas hamper and we buy pretty much everything.  We've had people that have decorated sugar cookies and packaged them up individually, putting them into hampers.  Some people will donate chocolate or some kind of candy for kids.  We'll go with turkeys or small hams for the family, with pies and toppings.  Mandarin oranges, we supply a box of those for everybody.  That kind of stuff."

The food bank will accept almost anything with the exception of a few items.

"We don't necessarily ask for anything, we just accept what people donate," said Borsa.  "We have all of our extras, which very nice people have donated, and everybody has their own idea of what's Christmas-ey.  We wouldn't accept baking, and the cookies that were done were made by someone who caters.  We have a fridge and a freezer, but we can't accept fresh vegetables because we have no place to put them.  We pack hampers once a month and so we can't accept perishable items."

The holidays paint a picture of why the Outlook Food Bank is needed by so many people, a crucial community organization that's vital for so many families not only in this community, but all over the regional area.

"They remind me of what we're doing and why we're here, which is helping people," said Gail.  "That's very gratifying, but it's also heartbreaking because so many of these people are children.  I'm so fortunate, there by the Grace of God.  It could be anybody, it could even be you tomorrow, if something happened.  We cover quite an area.  We have people coming in from Delisle, Dinsmore, Outlook, Hawarden, Loreburn, Elbow, Hanley, and they used to have a food bank in Dundurn and they shut it down because they didn't have enough people to run it.  We don't just cover Outlook!"

Gail says the food bank is eternally grateful for the help that's continuously given by the people of this community and local businesses.  When all is said and done, they fill a need in order to ensure that for some families, everyday life is just that much better.

"We appreciate everybody's support," she said.  "Please take cards off of the Secret Santa tree (located at Outlook's Prairie Centre Credit Union).  Whatever's not taken off the tree, the food bank can take and fill, but it'd be great if the community at large can contribute.  They always do though, and they always come through for us!"