They form a line in the chilly morning air, bundled up warmly to face the damp cold.
The winding lineup – more than 30 people – features a wide variety of men and women of all ages and races.
Many mothers have babies in strollers or youngsters who play as they wait for the Surrey Food Bank to open. Those in line chat together with the occasional laugh as they wait. Some stand silently with arms folded; mothers mind their babies and toddlers while watching for the food bank to open.
Filling the air is the strong smell of fresh, white onions that await distribution in a huge stack of boxes – just one stack piled next to more boxes, bins and crates loaded with food.
Outside the 8,000-square-foot warehouse, a covered outdoor area is set up for the onions and other fresh food and produce (perishable items) that the food bank gets by working closely with the local food industry.
Today, there are also bunches of fresh broccoli, bean sprouts, grapes, parsley, oranges, celery, yogurt, organic milk, cereal, dog food and more.
“Organic milk is a real treat – we don’t get that a lot,” said Surrey Food Bank executive director Marilyn Herrmann.
She noted that a lineup of 30 in the morning isn’t that large, as they’ve seen up to 80 people queue up for the facility’s 9 a.m. opening time (food is distributed from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday).
Inside the large warehouse, with masses of neatly organized boxes, bins and pallets full of food, clients can get bread and bakery products as well as their hampers, which are full of food items such as pasta, pasta sauce, Kraft Dinner, peanut butter, canned soup and vegetables, canned fish, cookies, crackers, and condiments. Condiments change every day, depending on what is donated, and range from mustard to olive oil to ethnic sauces.
The Surrey Food Bank helps more than 14,000 city residents every month, which means they help 250 to 350 families each day and distribute $30,000 worth of food daily.
Herrmann said the numbers of people they help have been fairly steady, but where they have noticed an increase is in the need for their Tiny Bundles program, which provides weekly food hampers for pregnant women and women with babies up to one year old.
Hampers contain fresh eggs, milk and baby formula along with fresh vegetables and other groceries for the week. Moms and babies in the Tiny Bundles program can come to the food bank once a week, as opposed to the norm, which is once every two weeks, Herrmann said.
“We used to get about 180 (families) a week. Now, they’re in the 200s. On Nov. 9, we helped 271 families. That’s an all-time record,” Herrmann said.
The food bank currently spends $800 a week on milk and eggs and when they run out of formula – which happens a lot – they spend $10,000 on baby formula every eight weeks.
But moms aren’t the only ones who need help and the food bank sees people of all kinds – whether they be seniors on limited pensions, the disabled, people who have jobs but don’t earn enough to support their families or recent immigrants struggling in a new country.
“We’re serving a real cross-section of people … many of them never thought they’d ever have to use the food bank,” Herrmann said. “Surrey has always been generous, and people always think about us at Christmas, but need doesn’t have a season.”
Herrmann understands that there are numerous charitable organizations that require help year-round but said, “Feeding yourself and your family is such a basic need. It’s an act of human kindness, not charity.”
The Surrey Food Bank needs to raise $1.2 million a year, every year, because it doesn’t receive government funding.
While non-perishable food items and baby formula are always needed, cash goes a long way too, she added.
“We’re hoping Surrey will be just as generous as they have been in the past, and help us keep our mission going every day of the year,” Herrmann said. “Everything is appreciated.”
Visit the food bank at 10732 City Parkway or online at www.surreyfoodbank.org.