Feed My Sheep

Contributed by  Andrew Rolfson, Executive Director of the BC Thanksgiving Food Drive

  • 1 June 2012

“The members were happy, the donors were happy and the food banks were happily shocked. They had no idea of the magnitude of this project, but then neither did we.” 
- Pres. Neil T. McKenzie,
   Abbotsford BC Stake

In 2011, some 14,000 volunteers affiliated with LDS-supported food drives throughout British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba collected hundreds of tons of non-perishable food in their communities. Most events involved volunteers completing collection routes in surrounding neighborhoods: donation bags were delivered to doorsteps at the beginning of collection weeks, then picked up the following Saturday and delivered to local food banks. All told, nearly two hundred congregations from twenty-four LDS stakes participated in these projects between June and October.

The largest single event was staged by members of the Church in Calgary, AB, where the 2011 “City-Wide Food Drive” involved more than seven thousand volunteers soliciting 440,000 pounds in donations. Since 2005, this food drive has collected more than 2.6 million pounds of food for the city’s Interfaith Food Bank. That total included more than 500,000 pounds in 2008, registering at the time as a Guinness World Record.

In Lethbridge, AB, Church members had organized their project under the banner “Target Hunger,” which has taken place each of the past five summers and has grown to include more than 1,000 volunteers. This past year, they collected roughly 45,000 pounds of food that was divided between the Lethbridge Food Bank and the Interfaith Food Bank Society.

Red Deer, AB, also hosts two LDS-supported events that have run each June and October for the last three years. The members there have been extremely successful, developing a return rate of nearly thirty percent from homes where donation bags were delivered. Last year, they collected roughly 40,000 pounds in donations for the Red Deer Food Bank Society.

In BC, what started as a local effort by members of the LDS congregation in Burnaby in 2009 has grown to include 4,500 volunteers in more than forty communities throughout the province. Last year, this “BC Thanksgiving Food Drive” delivered 250,000 pounds of non-perishable food to help feed the less fortunate. Those donations were distributed to more than 30 local food banks in the Lower Mainland, the Okanagan, the BC Interior, on Vancouver Island, and as far north as Prince Rupert.

Similar events have been hosted by members of the Church in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. In Winnipeg, members have worked with the Selkirk, Interlink, and Winnipeg Harvest food banks for the last seven years. In 2011, more than 500 volunteers were recruited to collect 26,000 pounds of food from Winnipeg doorsteps. In the end, they were able to deliver three times that amount due to matching donations from local grocery stores. Members in Saskatoon have also been running a smaller food drive in support of the Saskatoon Food Bank, which they co-sponsor with the local Ahmadiyya Muslim congregation.

Thousands more volunteers joined the effort for the first time last fall in Edmonton, where four stakes – Millwoods, River Bend, Edmonton North, and Bonnie Doon – collected 120,000 pounds of food in early October. Their initial city-wide event was so successful it caught their food banks off guard. “We showed up at the Strathcona County Food Bank at the end of collection day, and one of our volunteers went inside to inform them we had brought our promised donation,” relates Eileen Bell, Multi-Stake Public Affairs Director for the Edmonton area. “She was told to ‘drop it off by the door,’ and when she protested there might not be enough space, she was encouraged to put the remainder by the front desk. We finally convinced them to come outside and look at what we were handing to them. We had numerous trucks in the parking lot, and 25,000 pounds of food. They couldn’t believe it.”

A similar experience was reported by President Neil T. McKenzie of the Abbotsford BC Stake, whose members were also participating for the first time. One local food bank in Langley ended their collection day having to call surrounding organizations for help with storing donations. “The members were happy, the donors were happy and the food banks were happily shocked. They had no idea of the magnitude of this project, but then neither did we.”

Combined total donations collected during all these events exceeded 900,000 pounds--nearly two-and-a-half million dollars worth of food. A large part of that success was due to the substantial number of volunteers who came from outside of the Church to work with members. “The manpower you provided in distributing and picking up bags, sorting food donations and in delivering to the food banks is unbelievable,” said Danielle McIntyre, Executive Director of the Interfaith Food Bank in Lethbridge. “It is really nice to be able to put food straight onto the shelves.” As well, dozens of other denominations, businesses and community groups contributed tens of thousands of dollars in financial and material assistance–and the scale of that support is expected to grow.

The first food drives for 2012 are slated for June in Lethbridge and Red Deer, AB and Clearwater, BC. The last one concludes in Calgary, AB in late October.

To report or enquire about LDS-supported food drives in Canada, email: director@bctfooddrive.org.