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Canmore Food and Friends returns following hiatus

“I’d say it’s high-quality food. We really have a focus on helping the community. If we as a group can make a person’s Monday night that much better and easier because we know how expensive the town is, then we’ve accomplished something.”
35 Food and Friends Pepper Soup 0001
Marty Carpenter, a volunteer at Canmore's Food and Friends, makes soup in the kitchen. RMO FILE PHOTO

CANMORE – An old community friend is returning to Canmore after a brief hiatus.

Canmore Food and Friends relaunched its popular services for takeout Sept. 19 at St. Michael’s Anglican Church following an eight-week break due to a shortage of volunteers in the busy summer months.

With a rested group of volunteers and a push to get more people involved, affordable meals on Monday evenings are once again an option for residents.

“We got to a point where we had a number of volunteers on vacations or had other commitments, so we didn’t have the core number of volunteers,” said Marty Carpenter, a longtime volunteer and professional chef. “What we’re looking to do with the reset is to try and ask the community to deepen our pool of volunteers. It’s a great interaction for people who want to see those in the community. It allows our core group to take a holiday, a break or add help if they get sick.”

The weekly meal, which has a consistent vegetarian option, averages about 300-350 meals, including about 25-35 takeout meals that go to people unable to physically attend.

There are four key areas for people to volunteer. They consist of receiving the grocery deliveries each Thursday morning, helping with the prep work on Sunday afternoons, the cooking team that arrives at about 12:30 p.m. Mondays and the volunteers for the meal itself each Monday evening.

On the night, there are three people cooking, one dishwasher, three or four people serving meals and one to two people welcoming those entering the church.

“The prep is critical to the production of the meal because we just wouldn’t have time Monday to do prep and the meal. That’s very critical,” Carpenter said.

In July, Food and Friends ran into a perfect storm of volunteers being on vacation, one cook being away for a job, another being sick and people missing due to other commitments.

With those remaining inundated with work, the difficult decision was made to take a break and return in September.

With the exception of taking one Monday off in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the weekly meal has been a constant in the community since it first launched in February 2013.

However, even the pandemic couldn’t slow Food and Friends down, with a takeout and delivery service with assistance from provincial funding and Iron Goat Pub and Grill.

It also briefly expanded to twice a week in May 2020 following a provincial grant of $64,000, with additional funding coming from Bow Valley Food Bank and Canmore Rotary Club that allowed them to hit between 350-400 meals.

The in-person dining, which has been on hiatus since the start of COVID, would need an additional three to four people to help clean and bus tables so there’s no timeline for it returning.

“The big question is when do we get back to in-person dining because it’s something people really enjoyed prior to COVID. It will all depend on the status of the pandemic and where we are from a health perspective,” Carpenter said. “We need to make sure St. Mike’s is comfortable doing that and one thing about in-person is the need for volunteers to do dishes, cleaning tables and other jobs. … It’s important we have enough people to make it happen.”

Any return to in-person dining would also need more volunteers since the setup and cleaning up for hundreds of people is time consuming.

“In-person dining is a considerable amount of work if you don’t have enough people. … For every two people we have, we need a third person who is waiting in the wings in case one of them isn’t available,” Carpenter said.

The community meal passed 100,000 dinners served on May 30 and is now heading towards the next milestone. The main supplier is Sysco Canada as well as accepting donations and cash from the community.

Each person receiving a dinner is suggested to leave a donation, which goes to cover costs for food to keep the weekly meal going.

“We’re not making filet mignon or lobster thermidor, but what we do is a good job,” Carpenter said.

“I’d say it’s high-quality food. We really have a focus on helping the community. If we as a group can make a person’s Monday night that much better and easier because we know how expensive the town is, then we’ve accomplished something.”

For those interested in volunteering, they can visit: https://m.signupgenius.com/#!/showSignUp/10c054cabaf2fa4f49-canmore.