Kevin Anderson

KAPUSKASING – People in Kapuskasing tend to be pretty generous when it comes to supporting their fellow Model Towners.

So, it would stand to reason that when it comes to the Kapuskasing Food Bank people are for the most part happy to contribute whatever they can in the way of non-perishable goods or cash to help the  less fortunate.

But what happens to that food and cash once it has reached the food bank?

“We’ve set up the system that is recommended by the Ontario Association of Food Banks,” said volunteer Rick Bartlett, who along with Yves Labelle are the faces of the local institution. “It helps ensure that our clients are going to get items they will actually consume, while at the same time helping to take some of the stigma out of using the food bank.”

The system is based on points, with different coloured stickers representing different point values. With the food bank set up much the same as a grocery store, individual clients receive 15 points per month with which they can purchase goods.

The points given increases based on the number of dependents a person has. For instance, a client coming in alone receives 15 points but also receives an additional five points if accompanied by their spouse and five more points for each child in their care.

Five extra points per month may be purchased for five dollars. One extra point can be acquired by clients bringing their own, reusable shopping bags.

“The point value is mostly based on the value of the item at the grocery store,” said Bartlett. “The entire system lends itself to a more dignified process that allows our clients to feel good about coming in to use the service.

“It is a much nicer experience than just walking in somewhere, getting a box or bag of food full of items you may or may not like and then walking out again. There’s talking and laughter and it is a much more welcoming environment and that’s something we’re proud of.

“It also helps empower them by learning about the value of what they’re getting.

When they see the point values assigned to items here and then they go to the grocery store, they know which items are more expensive than others based on what they’ve seen here and those are the items they’ll get from us if they’re able to. It’s all geared toward tearing down the stigma associated with using our services.”

Not only are clients free to shop within the limit of their points for staple items, but also to take advantage of some extras at no supplementary cost.

“Sometimes extras include chicken, or milk or fresh fruit and vegetables,” said Yves Labelle, who along with Bartlett is one of the main faces of the food bank. “We also get baked items such as breads, cookies, cakes etc. which we get from Larabie’s Your Independent Grocer. We do what we’re able to give them everything we can over and above their points.”

With regards to financial donations, Bartlett said the food bank stretches every dollar by buying in bulk at highly discounted rates, allowing every dollar to go much further than it would otherwise.

“We have access to companies that allow us to purchase items by the skid load,” he explained. “When items get low, Yves (Labelle) and I will start purchasing stuff at the best possible price.

“The perfect example is macaroni and cheese. About twice per year you get it for $.69-$.79 per box and that’s when we buy cases of it. That kind of buying also allows us to lower the point value on a particular item because we’ve paid less to acquire it. That’s how we make sure every dollar of a cash donation is maximized.”

Anyone who has had any involvement with the Kapuskasing Food Bank will have quickly recognized Bartlett and Labelle’s passion for the project.

“I’ve been fortunate my entire life not to have to wonder where my next meal is going to come from but not everyone is that lucky and with about 200 regular clients it’s important that we fill this need in the community,” said Labelle. “It falls directly into Rotary’s mandate and I’m happy to be working on this project.”

“The town of Kapuskasing is near and dear to my heart. When I first moved here, I didn’t have two nickels to rub together. The business the people brought me allowed me to make a good living for a lot of years and then to retire,” said Bartlett. “And to be honest, we’re all the same. We’re just people. The only difference between me and some of our clients is that I got a couple of lucky breaks that maybe they didn’t. Our roles could easily have been reversed. They’re just regular, everyday people, who need some help and we’re happy to provide it to them.”