Okotoks, Alberta — Food banks are a safe haven for many individuals and families who are experiencing financial hardships and help provide a sense of security, hope, and community to those in need. The economic downturn in Alberta that began in 2014 has hit the Foothills county hard, and the Okotoks Food Bank Association has been diligently working to keep the community fed ever since.
The registered charity is led by Pamela McLean, a life-long philanthropist who is passionate about serving her community. McLean has been active on more than six charity committees since moving to Okotoks in 2004. Having spent the majority of her life in Ontario, connecting with others through community service is what helped McLean build a sense of belonging in her new town.
“What I love most about Okotoks is the people who live here. They are an incredibly supportive, civic-minded group of people who believe in taking care of their neighbours,” she says.
In 2019, she accepted the role of Executive Director at the foodbank and hasn’t looked back.
“Suffice it to say, the job has changed my life. It continues to provide daily challenges and constant fulfillment,” she says.
Because the food bank does not receive federal, provincial, or municipal funding, they rely solely on donations and grants. Penny Marshall, from Highwood Crossing Farm, recognized this need and nominated the food bank for a $2,500 grant from the Bayer Fund’s Canada’s Farmers Grow Communities program.
“Our community is stronger and more stable because of our functioning local food bank. It’s an important part of any municipality. It means that people experiencing food insecurity are having their needs addressed,” says Marshall.
The family farm has been operating since 1899 and is highly regarded in the agriculture industry for their innovative, organic processes. Penny and her husband believe deeply in ethical, sustainable farming practices. They grow 100 per cent organic crops that include wheat, rye, flax, canola, oats, barley, peas, hay, and sweet clover. At their food processing plant, they produce various cold-pressed oils, granolas, baking mixes, and cereals.
To be nominated for the grant by such a widely respected business was deeply moving for McLean and the food bank.
“It’s important to us that our hampers provide healthy, nutritional food. We aim to have 45 per cent of the hampers consist of fresh produce, meat protein, and dairy products. Being nominated by such an innovative farm that shares this vision was an honour and a privilege,” says McLean. “It felt like the care and attention to creating healthy food hampers for our clients was being recognized and acknowledged.”
With the CFGC grant support, a bulk of the funds has been dedicated to covering the most recent Fresh Food of the Month Program. This is a new initiative to help educate clientele on the important role of fruits and vegetables play in healthy eating. Along with the food hamper, clients are given nutritional information about the feature food and tips on how to prepare and store it. Carefully selected recipes (that can be made with the hamper) are also included.
Another small portion of the grant has been designated to help with the associated costs of a 2020 cookbook that is being produced to commemorate the food bank’s 35 years of service.
Okotoks is surrounded by many farming communities, which makes receiving the CFGC grant extra special, which McLean explained in a thank-you message to both the nominator and the Bayer Fund:
“It reinforces that farming still has a very important role in our country. A huge thank you to Penny Marshall and the Bayer Fund for your vision to strengthen communities. We are grateful for your acknowledgement!”