Mystery donor gives food bank big boost

It's been months since Stephen Dunbar-Edge has seen shadows when he walks down the aisles of the Whitehorse Food Bank. Many shelves have been bare.

It’s been months since Stephen Dunbar-Edge has seen shadows when he walks down the aisles of the Whitehorse Food Bank.

Many shelves have been bare.

The executive director of the food bank isn’t likely to have that problem for a while now, thanks to an anonymous $10,000 donation last month.

The money was in response to another big donation.

Giving, Dunbar-Edge said, has turned out to have quite the domino effect.

In December, Whitehorse Motors donated a 2013 transit van. That donation itself was a huge deal for the food bank. The 1998 Chevy Astro it had used reliably since it opened five years ago was on its last legs.

The donation of the van became a news item on CBC television. Then, a few days later, Dunbar-Edge got a phone call from a lawyer in Vancouver.

“I don’t know who or where they are, but he said that someone had seen that and wanted to make an anonymous donation…. It was a really nice Christmas surprise.”

More dominos fell when Dunbar-Edge was able to connect with Worldwide Food Distributors. The Ontario-based company acts as a go-between for food banks and manufacturers that have an excess of non-perishable food.

This is the first time the Whitehorse food bank has worked with the company.

Through them, Dunbar-Edge was able to take $13,500 and turn it into about $23,000 to $26,000 worth of food.

That same month the five pallets of non-perishables arrived: canned fish, turkey and chicken along with canned beans, tomatoes, corn and green beans. The pallets also held dried soup and cereal.

“I was able to buy food that will carry me through to the spring food drive,” Dunbar-Edge said.

Last year was an eventful one for the food bank. In April it received a one-time $750,000 grant from the Yukon government to help with the purchase of its current location at 306 Alexander Street, though they still have a small mortgage remaining.

The building used to be the old Legion, and Dunbar-Edge has some big plans for it now that it’s owned by the food bank.

A lease agreement is still being worked on, but after some renovations, Yukon’s Boys and Girls Club will move into the side of the building that used to be a bar. The food bank will stay where it is, on the side that used to be used for bingos and pancake breakfasts.

“They’ll be using the commercial kitchen that’s on their side to do cooking programs with kids,” Dunbar-Edge said.

Dunbar-Edge is busy applying to a fund administered by Food Banks Canada to pay for some joint programming between the two groups, which could involve getting the kids to help out around the food bank.

In 2015, Dunbar-Edge is also hoping to expand the types of help that the food bank offers. Right now people can come in once a month for three days’ worth of emergency food.

This year he said he wants to roll out programs specifically for people living on the streets. That would mean offering a day’s worth of food on a more frequent basis.

If they are living on the streets, people won’t have anywhere to store more than that anyways.

If someone is also dealing with an addiction, that can make things more complicated, he said.

“They can’t go to the Salvation Army if they are intoxicated, but that doesn’t change the fact that they need to have food in their system,” he said.

“Because if I don’t put food in their system with other things that are going into their bodies, they end up freezing in the ditch or dehydrated in a way that then they spend three days in the hospital for $3,000, when I could have resolved the issue with $4.50 of sardines, crackers, juice, etc.

“My goal is to save the taxpayers money, even though I get no funding to do that.”

With all the new things that are happening, the basic purpose for the food bank – and the need for it – has not changed.

In 2014 the food bank served about 1,436 individuals a month. Of those, about 34 per cent were children.

Dunbar-Edge says there are misconceptions about people who use the food bank.

He’s seen comments from people complaining that some clients have cars that are too nice.

That kind of judgment is unwarranted, he said.

“They don’t know where that person’s at. Yes, maybe they do have a newer car, but maybe something is going on in their life that they need to be here. What are they supposed to do? Sell their vehicle so that suddenly they can’t drive their kids anywhere or go to their job?” he said.

“And we don’t even know if they could sell their vehicle because they might owe more on it than it’s worth to resell.”

Only one-tenth of the food bank’s clients return every month, said Dunbar-Edge. The vast majority of clients will come between four and eight times a year.

“That tells me the clients treat it as an emergency service.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at