Food bank loses its longtime executive director

The face of the Whitehorse Food Bank has left his post as executive director. Stephen Dunbar-Edge has taken a job as a director with the Yukon Liquor Corporation.

The face of the Whitehorse Food Bank has left his post as executive director.

Stephen Dunbar-Edge has taken a job as a director with the Yukon Liquor Corporation, but his visible passion for the food bank’s work has not changed.

Dunbar-Edge has been at the helm since 2010. He said he sees his career in three- to five-year increments, and it was time for a new challenge.

He has joined the food bank’s board, and plans to continue to help steer the ship and lead fundraising initiatives. The food bank is currently in the process of hiring his replacement.

Back in 2010, Dunbar-Edge was in another one of those transition phases.

“I was sort of in the middle of one of my ‘Gee, I don’t know what I’m doing anymore and what else can I do?’ (phases),” he said in an interview at the food bank on Thursday.

“One day I opened the newspaper, and I saw that the food bank was looking for an executive director. And if ever a job spoke to me, that one did.

“It was like, ‘I could take on a really cool challenge,’ and that’s what it was. So I applied for the job, and I was successful in getting the job. And then I got into the job, and I realized what a huge job it was.”

He had no food bank or not-for-profit experience, but he had been on a lot of boards.

“I knew how a board worked, and I knew what I expected of an executive director,” he said.

“What I didn’t comprehend, at first, was how much we needed community support to survive.”

Keeping up with demand was a huge challenge, he said.

In his time there the food bank has grown from 300 clients a month to 700.

Really that’s closer to 1,400 people, since many people come for food on behalf of a household.

Dunbar-Edge has two proudest accomplishments from his time as executive director, he said.

The first is collecting better information about who is using the food bank, and why.

“I have gotten to know the clients here over the past five years, and their need is genuine,” he said.

“I found each season brought its own set of different types of clients.

“Now I understand where people are coming from, I understand what their means of income are, if any at this point. I know their family structure.”

Collecting that information has helped to dispel some myths about who uses the food bank.

For example, in an average month he sees 250 clients living in private rental, versus just 95 in social housing.

“That tells me, that on average, when people are paying less rent, they buy their own food,” he said.

“The assumption that all the people who come to see me are in social housing is dead wrong.”

He also has seen a huge number who come for a short period of time, and then disappear.

“The crisis is resolved, and we never see them again. That tells me we’re doing what we should be doing. It’s that hand up, versus a hand out.

“This is the replacement for when someone could knock on grandma’s door and ask for some food, because that doesn’t happen in our society now. This is how we’ve adjusted for that disconnection we have in our communities, of people helping people. This is that avenue.”

His second proud accomplishment is being a part of the food bank taking ownership of the building it has been in since 2009, he said.

That was done thanks largely to one-time funding injection of $750,000 from the Yukon government.

“The accomplishment of buying this building means we have security, it means we don’t have to pay as much rent, and I can divert the money we were paying into rent into sustainability.”

The building was built in the 1950s and used to be the local legion.

Now the food bank is looking to rent the attached space, more recently occupied by Foxy’s Cabaret, to another non-profit.

Rent will be 75 per cent of market rate, and that income will go to a building fund, to pay for necessary repairs and maintenance, said Dunbar-Edge.

“Right now I look at the furnace and I go, ‘Nice furnace, good furnace,’” he said, motioning with his hands as if petting and comforting the furnace.

“One of the things that I’m the most proud of, is that in the five years that we have been here, I have been very grateful for the media, for the support that they have given us.

“I have been very grateful for the volunteers. On average, 50-65 volunteers a month put in time here to make this work.

“And I’m especially grateful to everyone who donates to the food bank. Because without their support, we just wouldn’t be here. And I know our clients appreciate it too. We often hear the thank-yous.”

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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