Dave Wilkinson

Seniors come in from the cold

Surrey Food Bank clients find warmth and companionship at the Chuck Bailey Recreation Centre.

It’s two days before Edna Yargeau’s 66th birthday.

It’s cold and rainy outside, but Yargeau – waiting for the doors to open at the Surrey Food Bank (SFB) – is comfortable and relaxed.

She’s among about two dozen other seniors inside the lobby of the Chuck Bailey Recreation Centre, which has opened its doors to older SFB clients as part of a new program.

Instead of lining up on the street, they’ve got a place to sit and get to know each other better.

“It’s nice,” Yargeau says over the piped-in Christmas music. “It gives us a place to socialize. It’s like a social club.”

To add to the atmosphere, coffee and snacks are provided by volunteers from the South Surrey-based Seniors Come Share Society (SCSS), which has a satellite office at the recreation centre.

The seniors’ program, which runs every second week, is a partnership between the SFB, the SCSS and the City of Surrey.

Sitting with Yargeau is Karen Holmstrom, who is both a client of and a volunteer for the Surrey Food Bank.

It’s a way of giving back, says the 67-year-old retiree, who used to volunteer at a food bank in Vernon.

Both women say it’s financially tough for a senior living on a pension.

Photo: Karen Holmstrom (right), a client of and volunteer with the Surrey Food Bank, chats with another client while waiting for her Wednesday seniors’ hamper at the Chuck Bailey Recreation Centre.

“Everybody is in the same boat as you,” says Holmstrom, saying that about half of her pension cheque goes towards rent.

“Without (the food bank), we probably wouldn’t make it.”

Now, for the second time – and henceforth, every second Wednesday – seniors don’t have to line up across the street for the 1:30 p.m. opening at the food bank.

“When you stand there for two hours, you get tired, your bones creak,” says Holmstrom. “(Now) bones don’t creak.”

“Coming here is a blessing,” says Dave Wilkinson, who is seated at a nearby table with another client, James Bowler, a 67-year-old who delivers newspapers to 117 homes in Newton.

Both men have been clients of the food bank for about a year.

“You’ve got to be a politician to get a good pension,” notes Wilkinson, who has nothing but praise for the food bank’s friendly staff and clients.

Bowler says the SFB helps him take care of his adult son, who is struggling to find work.

SFB Executive Director Marilyn Herrmann says the idea of a gathering place for seniors was inspired by conversations at a recent seniors’ forum in Surrey.

The SCSS quickly joined, since it already offers day programs for seniors on site, as well as other community support programs such as social clubs, community meals, caregiver outreach and home support.

As for Surrey staff at the Chuck Bailey Recreation Centre, “they’re smiling from ear to ear,” says Herrmann.

Surrey Food Bank facts:

• The food bank serves 13,800 clients each month.

• About one-third of clients are children. Many clients are seniors and immigrants. Other clients are employed and use the food bank occasionally to make ends meet.

• The food bank is supported solely by donations made by individuals, organizations and businesses.

• Cash donations allow the food bank to purchase produce, baby formula, milk, eggs and other specialty foods for specific client groups. Through purchasing agreements with grocers and bulk buying, the food bank can turn every $1 donated into $3.

• Specific programs at the SFB include Hamper to Your Home (for clients with mobility issues), Tiny Bundles, Pre-K (ages two to five), Toddler Totes, Thrifty Kitchen and distribution geared to seniors aged 65 and over on Wednesdays.

• Volunteers are a big part of the SFB. Hours for volunteering are Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. (except Wednesdays). A three-month commitment is required.

• Other than money, the most-needed donated items – especially during the Christmas season – are baby formula, baby toiletries and blankets, canned meat/fish, healthy cereal, meals-in-a-tin, canned fruit and vegetables, whole-grain pasta and rice, pasta sauces, soups and macaroni and cheese.

• The SFB does not go door-to-door to solicit cash donations nor does it partner with any other organization to do so.

If you are approached by someone claiming to represent the Surrey Food Bank, contact the Surrey RCMP at 604-599-0502.

The Surrey Food Bank is located at 10732 City Parkway.

For more information, visit surreyfoodbank.org