The new face of the Whitehorse food bank has big plans for the place.
Construction is already going on all around Kyla Merkel. Half of the food bank’s building has been gutted and is being converted into a space for the Boys and Girls Club of Yukon.
Once that’s done, crews will move on to create a more secure front entrance to the food bank, upgrade the bathrooms and reconfigure that space. All together it should take about four months,
Merkel has been executive director at the food bank since April 27. As work continues inside, she has big plans for the food bank’s outdoors.
An unused parking lot is the perfect spot for a vegetable garden, she says.
She’s hoping to get federal money from a Service Canada fund designed to encourage seniors to volunteer and mentor.
That’s a perfect fit, especially now that the Boys and Girls Club is moving in next door and will also be able to help, she says.
“It’s making connections and making relationships and growing bonds that hopefully will be fantastic.”
The garden beds would be waist-height, allowing the seniors to garden without having to bend over.
The Boys and Girls Club already has the equipment to start the seedlings.
Summer can be a particularly difficult time for the food bank, Merkel said.
Its financial year starts in September, so when the summer months come, the money and resources are running near empty.
But, while their resources are low, Merkel estimates the food bank sees about a 30 per cent increase in families over the summer.
It’s a time of year where families can struggle. Without school breakfast programs kids are eating more at home, she said. That’s added on top of the extra costs of childcare or day camps.
But a garden gives you something to look forward to at that time of year. “That’s when you harvest the vegetation that you grow. So hopefully that will help,” she said.
Merkel hopes to get the funding approved and start construction of the garden by August, before the Yukon ground freezes.
“So next spring I’ll be putting out a big post looking for more volunteers that are interested in gardening, whether they’re seniors or younger people, any age that likes to garden to come and help us.”
Merkel has worked as the housing manager in Mayo for the Yukon Housing Corporation and a tenant relations officer in Whitehorse. She’s also helped manage her step-mom’s store.
She says she took this job because “I just really like giving back to the community and helping people.”
She says there are lots of misconceptions about the kind of people who use the food bank. She’ll see clients who are homeowners and who have their own vehicles.
“I hear a lot of people saying, ‘Well, they drive nice vehicles when they pull up,’ and all that sort of stuff,” she said. “Well, they can’t sell their vehicle because they lost their job last month and they’re trying to get a new job right now.”
Food bank clients get three days worth of emergency food once a month.
A lot of clients only use it in emergencies and don’t return month to month, she said.
“There’s a lot of stereotyping of the type of people that use the food bank. People that live regular lives sometimes stumble and they need a little help and that’s what we’re here for.”
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