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Fighting food insecurity in the Bow Valley with free meals

“I go out on the food deliveries for this free initiative and the things you see – I guarantee you that there are many many people in Canmore that do not have a clue about the level of hardship and poverty that exists on a daily basis in this town."

CANMORE – Fueled by his passion to help those in need, chef Damian Liengme of Mountain Fire Foods is feeding the Bow Valley.

Liengme received a $10,000 grant from the Banff Canmore Community Foundation (BCCF) and the Canmore Rotary Club to provide free meals to Bow Valley residents in need, an initiative he is calling Feed the Bow.

“This free initiative wouldn’t be possible without BCCF and the Rotary club. They have generously provided the funds and I’m just the guy making the food,” said Liengme.

The initiative started six weeks ago and Liengme said the number of people registering each week is growing. In the past few weeks, he has made and delivered between 55 to 62 free meals a week. Liengme would like to be able to produce up to 100 meals a week for the initiative.

Preparing so many meals may seem daunting, but Liengme has a background in production cooking in the oilsands for 12 years, where he would routinely prepare three meals a day for up to 1,000 people in the camps.

“For me 100 meals is easy. I am lucky enough to have that skillset to help people in the community.”

It is difficult for Liengme to accommodate a wide range of dietary restrictions because he often does not know what he will be preparing until two days prior to delivery, but added he will make things try to work for people’s needs.

“All you are going to know is that it is fresh, healthy and it’s made with love. Food is medicine. I am not going to make it full of gluten, or full of dairy – I’m going to make it so it kind of fits for everybody. I’m not going to give you food you can’t eat.”

With an emphasis on fresh, seasonal, ready-made meals, Sandy Last, a director and program committee chairperson of BCCF said it was an easy decision to fund Liengme’s initiative.

“We recognized that he had a large commitment to serving the community… the quality of his food, the quality of his service and the quality of his commitment is outstanding,” said Last.

“Food security is always a significant issue in the Bow Valley and the foundation certainly realized people's need for support with food is significant, and Damian’s food helps to fill a special niche.”

Liengme has been in the Bow Valley since the late 1980s and said he has seen the valley grow and flourish from four-way stop signs and dirt roads. He added the rate of growth in the town and the effect the pandemic has had on the Bow Valley has been devastating to witness.

“I go out on the food deliveries for this free initiative and the things you see – I guarantee you that there are many many people in Canmore that do not have a clue about the level of hardship and poverty that exists on a daily basis in this town,” said Liengme.

He said people who work in the hospitality industry make the Bow Valley run, and it’s those people who are struggling right now due to the pandemic.

“It’s a large demographic of people who are not really seen but once you’re on the inside you see some pretty unfortunate things. I would go as far to say that up to 50 per cent of people in the valley are hurting,” he said.

“The people I’ve seen with these deliveries – everyday people that are just so grateful and so humbled by a helping hand. It could be anybody.”

Liengme said the reason he started the initiative is simply to help those in need in the Bow Valley. When the pandemic first hit the Bow Valley last year, he was also producing free meals and delivering meals from Lake Louise to Morley. He is hopeful to continue Feed the Bow through the summer into the beginning of fall this year.

“It’s basic humanity. I’ve got this space I can put to use to help others. Why wouldn’t I? I had a great upbringing, great background but I still very much feel like I have a duty to help my brothers and sisters.”

Deliveries for those in Banff are Tuesdays and in Canmore it is Wednesdays. There is no requirement or qualification needed for those to receive a free meal through Feed the Bow.

“He has an open door to anybody who need a meal,” said Last.

Liengme is asking those interested in receiving a meal to email their name, address and the number of meals to mtnfirefoods@gmail.com.

“If you are having a rough day due to the pandemic, you’re sick and you need a healthy comforting meal just send me an email and you will get a free meal,” said Liengme.


Evan Buhler

About the Author: Evan Buhler

Evan Buhler is an award-winning photojournalist and reporter who joined the Outlook in 2019. A native of Calgary, he previously worked in Salmon Arm, B.C.
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