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New West residents find bigger bounty at Burnaby food bank location

Coping with challenges: Greater Vancouver Food Bank's strategy for New West clients
Access to the GVFB warehouse means more food for New West residents who pick up food in Burnaby.

More than half of the New West residents getting food from the Greater Vancouver Food Bank are already heading to Burnaby to get their groceries.

On Nov. 27, city council received a staff update on issues related to two food-security programs serving New Westminster, including the Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society. In response to “ongoing challenges” presented by its current location at Olivet Baptist Church, the GVFB will stop distributing food out of the church on Feb. 14, 2024.

“It's a tough decision, but it is one we've been labouring over for literally years,” Cynthia Boulter, chief operating officer, told the Record. “We just wanted to feel like we had looked as thoroughly as we could.”

The food bank is encouraging New West residents to visit its Burnaby location, where they’ll receive more food, given that facility’s ability to access items directly from the warehouse.

Boulter said some clients have complained about the amount of food they have access to in New West and some have thanked the GVFB for the “amazing” amount they’re able to get in Burnaby. In addition to getting food into communities, she said the organization also wants to make the GVFB experience to “an abundant one” for folks.

“At least half, often more than half, of our clients who live in New West already access Burnaby,” Boulter said. “And that's where they choose to go for whatever reason. We can also offer more hours of accessibility. We have an evening in Burnaby and a Saturday, and I know that that is appreciated by clients.”

At Olivet, the food bank is restricted to having one truck delivering food to the church. Once the truck arrives, there are logistical issues related to distribution.

“The term is hand bomb – we have to remove the food all by hand from the truck and into the gym, versus being able to unload it with pallet jacks and move it around and deposit it where it needs to be,” Boulter said. “So it takes longer. And we are restricted by what we can do by hand as well. And it's harder on the team.”

Emma Whiten, communications manager, said GVFB data shows that many New West residents consistently choose to go to Burnaby for the quality and quantity of food provided by a facility that meets its operational standards.  She said data from Jan. 1, 2023 until today shows that for “lives covered/supported” in New Westminster, 1,464 out of the 2,405 registered individuals have chosen to visit the Burnaby distribution site.

“This means that 61 per cent of registered New West residents visit our Burnaby location,” she said.

(“Lives covered” refers to the number of “unique individuals” visiting the food bank. A person who visits the GVFB four times in one month is considered one life supported/covered.)

Supporting agencies

The Greater Vancouver Food Bank, which was established in 1983, provides food to people in need in Vancouver, Burnaby, the North Shore and New Westminster.

Whiten said the food bank supports more than 16,000 people per month, registering nearly 10,000 new clients in 2023.

“Despite this record-breaking demand, we have yet to see the same level of growth matched in our New West registration. Compared to our Vancouver and Burnaby locations, New Westminster has barely moved the needle in terms of client growth,” she said. “We are best to redistribute our resources to the most significant areas of need while still providing weekly support to the agencies in the New Westminster community.”

Boulter said she can’t say for certain why the number of clients hasn’t increased at the New West location, but she suspects  it’s because some New West residents are already going to the Burnaby warehouse because of its hours, accessibility and food offerings.

“Vancouver, in particular, has seen massive growth,” she said. “Foot traffic has increased in Burnaby. North Van has also seen an increase. But New West really has not.” “

In addition to directly distributing food to folks at Olivet church, the food bank also provides food each week to seven agencies in New Westminster – Lookout New Westminster food hub, City of New Westminster/Shiloh Church (at St. Barnabas Church), Don’t Go Hungry (St. Aidan’s Church, Maida Duncan Drop-in (at the Elizabeth Fry Society), the Purpose Society, the New Leaf Clubhouse and the Refood Filipino Food Bank.

According to the GVFB, 46 per cent of its total outbound food goes to its agency partners. 

“They all run different types of programs,” Boulter said. “Just over half of the food that we put into the community goes to individuals, and just under half right now is going to our agencies. So it's a huge part of what we do and how we get food into communities.”

In 2023, GVFB has distributed more than 80,000 pounds of food to the City of New Westminster/Shiloh Church location and contributed more than 100,000 pounds of food to Don’t Go Hungry, said Whiten.

Boulter said the GVFB thought the Royal Westminster Regiment’s Armory would have been an ideal location for its program, but that proposal didn’t work out. With no other facility meeting its needs, she said the decision was made to close the Olivet location in 2024.

“We thought: OK the time has come,” she said. “But let's make sure our agencies are getting as much food as we can. And certainly, we're open to any additional community agencies in New West, who would like to partner with us.”

Boulter said the Greater Vancouver Food Bank supports almost 140 agencies every week and will be doing a new intake for agencies in January, with agencies in New West invited to apply.

“It'd be amazing if there was some new location that that popped up out of nowhere or another agency that we can take on,” she said. “We're always open to that.”