BANFF – Local residents looking to help the popular Banff Food and Friends community meal program will have their chance.
The popular program is seeking donations and volunteers to allow it to continue to offer its invaluable services for a September relaunch.
“Many people said there was a need for something like this in Banff and how this was a way of meeting this need,” said Rev. Howard Thornton. “I had moms and dads who said they work full-time, but this was the one chance they get for a bit of a break during the week where we can have a meal and have time to spend together.”
The popular program began last spring, following in the wake of the long-time success of the Canmore version. The first night drew between 40 and 50 people, but as word got around the mountain town, the program hit a peak of 180.
Thornton highlighted the program not only gives an extra element of food security to residents, but provides another place for locals to gather to aid in community cohesion.
“Some people don’t have very much money after paying rent and utilities, so they don’t have a lot left over for food,” he said. “This is a chance to get a really well cooked meal. It also gives them a break. We live in an amazing and beautiful place and sometime people barely have a chance to enjoy it.”
The weekly Monday meal offering is held at St. George’s-in-the-Pines Anglican Church Hall and uses the kitchen area to create meals for community members.
In 2019, the program received provincial funding to the tune of $75,200 that allowed the church kitchen to replace ageing infrastructure and make it a barrier-free accessible unit.
The program is run by volunteers and dependent on fundraising.
Thornton said the quality of food offered is an important aspect and they’re looking at ways of maintaining that quality, while also lowering the costs to run the program.
The service ran each Monday from 5 to 7 p.m. The price is free, but donations are accepted to help offset costs for the nutritious meals.
Banff Food and Friends is the sister program to the Canmore version, which began in 2013. Since then, Canmore Food and Friends has served more than 90,000 meals.
The program was a takeout service during the pandemic and is aiming to return to the in-person dining that helps connect residents with one another in a social setting.
Food security issues have been a significant concern for many residents in the Bow Valley. The pandemic only heightened those issues and highlighted the importance of programs such as Food for Friends.
“I’m really optimistic we can work together to find people who can help. … There’s a sense by our group of volunteers that people will really find this a rewarding experience and when we’re all pulling together, it’s a sense of helping the whole town,” Thornton said.
“We’re determined to be able to open in September. I believe in our town and I believe we’re the type of place that you’re welcomed into the community, able to make a contribution and a difference. … It’s a caring community. I think you need events like this that are for and by the community to help regenerate that feeling of what a great community it is to live in.”