For Nicola Valley Food Bank manager Derlanda Hewton and other survivors of last year’s extreme weather events in B.C., the raging wildfires and relentless rains were the stuff of nightmares.
When a wildfire destroyed about 90 percent of the village of Lytton in June, Hewton and her team of volunteers worked tirelessly to set up a temporary distribution centre using additional space available at the Elks Lodge in Merritt, where they provided over 90,000 pounds of much-needed food and essential supplies to an estimated 150 people per day.
And when the Coldwater River breached its banks in November, forcing a city-wide evacuation order in Merritt, Hewton and her team moved to multiple locations—from a community hall to a post-secondary gymnasium—just to keep food on the shelves.
Now back in its original space in downtown Merritt, Hewton says she has ‘big dreams’ for the food bank’s future.
‘More than a food bank’
Hewton is the first to thank her fellow food banks and provincial associations in the network along with Canadians from “right across the nation” for their immense support throughout the wildfires and flooding. But with the forward-thinking goal of self-sufficiency in mind, she adds, “if something like this were to happen again, we should have our own space.”
“We’ve really outgrown our building,” she said of their 20,000-square-foot facility. “With COVID, unfortunately people have to wait outside in the street. It’s embarrassing to them and we’re trying to change that.”
In addition to discussing ways to reach new faces with her team in the short term, such as offering food bank visits by appointment and home deliveries, Hewton has started working with her board of directors and a strategic planner to conceptualize a larger food bank that would have space for a hall, an education centre, a Food-Safe Kitchen and more.
“That’s my dream,” she said, adding that an education centre would allow for budgeting seminars and other household livelihood security workshops. “Things to help, especially with the way the world is … It’s only going to get harder, so we have to start helping people in new ways.”
‘It’ll take some time to get back to normal’
While the Nicola Valley Food Bank may have been able to return home as of January, Hewton says hundreds of people displaced by the fires have not. She is also expecting an increase in client visits after the regional district closes the resiliency office established for flood-affected residents, “especially with the high cost of groceries.”
“I think we’ll be seeing people here who never thought they’d have to use the food bank in their lives,” Hewton said, which is why she is advocating for an expansion of their services.
Despite the challenges associated with funding such a project and finding a suitable location, Hewton says she is determined to see her food security dream through.
“Over the past two disasters here in town, we’ve proven that we’re more than a food bank,” she said. “We want to be a food bank first and foremost, but we want to be more to people, too.”