Pemberton Food Bank Coordinator Loralee Seitz accepts a donation from Pemberton Youth Soccer Association’s Alan Firth.
Loralee Seitz is all too familiar with the face of hunger.
For the past five years, Seitz has worked for Sea to Sky Community Services as Coordinator for the Pemberton Food Bank, battling food insecurity in that northern community and beyond. Even in the best of times, the Pemberton Food Bank is perpetually busy and in need of funding. However, as the COVID-19 health crisis surged around the globe, so too did the sheer number of Corridor residents who were needing Seitz’s support. As businesses shuttered and employees were laid off, more and more people who had never thought they would need food bank services were showing up at Seitz’s door.
“I’ve definitely been seeing faces I’ve never seen before,” she said. “Some people have showed up practically starving because they felt too proud and waited to come and get food bank support.”
Seitz said she tried to stay on top of the jump in demand right from the start.
“When the pandemic began, we spent a lot of time reclaiming food from local restaurants and suppliers that had closed,” Seitz said. “Our food bank space is quite small, so it got so full that you could hardly move around.”
But it didn’t stay full for very long.
With each month that passed, the number of people accessing the food bank’s services just kept increasing exponentially. For example, the number of women served had a 242 per cent increase from 101 to 245 within two months of the pandemic’s start. More children were also needing food support, with an average 50 per cent increase across all age groups.
“One of our big focusses during this has been on children,” she said. “We have food programs in the schools during normal times, and many kids rely on those school breakfasts and lunches. But, with schools closed due to the health crisis, those children were no longer able to access those programs and were going hungry.”
So, the food bank partnered with School District #48 to help give those kids the nourishment they needed.
“The school district really did an amazing job,” Seitz said. “We worked with them and would donate anything we had in excess that was kid-friendly—fish crackers, etc.”
Seitz also actively sought out partnerships with the area’s First Nations communities who could not make the trip to the Pemberton Food Bank.
“We’ve built great relationships with the Lil’wat leadership team and with community members in the Samahquam First Nation,” she said. “They would send us a list of what food they needed, and I would prepare food bags for them.”
Those communities were hit especially hard by the pandemic’s fallout, with food bank stats on Indigenous people accessing the services showing a 332 per cent increase in persons served from 121 to 402 within two months.
Fortunately, the Sea to Sky Community has rallied around the critical need to support the food bank and feed the hungry during this health crisis. For instance, the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation partnered with Whistler Live and local band The Hairfarmers in April for a Pemberton Food Bank benefit concert. The online event saw the Foundation kick things off with $15,000 in matching donations while hundreds of residents and people around the world tuned in and donated to the cause. Likewise, the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) gave the food bank $25,000 in a Community Enrichment grant. The Squamish Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) has also initiated a Corridor-wide Feed The Need fundraising campaign as visits surged, aimed at supporting all food banks in the area. In addition, individuals in the community have stepped forward and donated more than $62,000 to help the food bank keep up with the ever-increasing demand.
Seitz is grateful for that support.
“It’s been a lot of work,” she said. “It still is.”
But for Seitz, it’s always been about helping those in need, especially now.
“It’s who I am,” she said. “I like to feed people. I also live for those little moments when I can make a difference to someone. For instance, a senior called me and he was alone and in isolation. He literally called to tell me he was starving. I delivered a parcel of food to him—I think I’ve delivered more than 400 hampers outside Pemberton to people isolating in just the past month—and he was a puddle. It just melted me. Hunger does things to people. But, when you bring these people food, their whole demeanour changes. Once they get what they need, it transforms them. The reward is indescribable.”
But the work continues unabated. Many people in the area still need food support to help get them through the crisis and its economic fallout.
“It may be a while before things settle and the demand isn’t so high,” she said. “We’ve seen an overall increase of 332 per cent in individuals served since this crisis began. If this continues, we are still looking at a $50,000 gap in our funding. There is still lots of work to be done.’”
To support the Pemberton Food Bank and support individuals and families in the area, donate at www.canadahelps.org/en/dn/2938.