Whitehorse Food Bank has lots of soap, little food

For most of the summer, the shelves at the Whitehorse Food Bank have been bare. Now, they're full of Dove beauty bars and freezer packs.

For most of the summer, the shelves at the Whitehorse Food Bank have been bare.

Now, they’re full of Dove beauty bars and freezer packs.

After months of “just scraping by,” Stephen Dunbar-Edge pulled what he thought was an ace from his sleeve.

The food bank’s executive director called the Calgary Inter-Faith Food Bank and asked for 24 pallets of free food.

Calgary acts as a regional hub, distributing food to 27 other food banks, as needed.

It cost the local nonprofit $6,500 to ship the 24 pallets north.

It felt like Christmas – until Dunbar-Edge saw what the shrink-wrapped pallets contained.

One was piled high with Dove beauty bars.

Two more were stacked with freezer packs, to keep coolers chilled in summer.

Another two held nothing but Crisco vegetable shortening.

“Some of the pallets were less-than-desirable product,” he said.

“Less than 45 per cent of the order was actual food I could use.”

And of the food that did arrive, many of the cans were “severely” dented, he said.

“We can’t give dented cans away.”

Dunbar-Edge hasn’t started handing out the soap or freezer packs yet.

He’s still too disappointed to deal with it.

Standing outside the food bank on Tuesday afternoon, one young guy who’s living in the bush outside town pulled a bag of Kettle Chips from his brown bag of food.

“I am going to eat all these tonight, as a treat,” he said.

Inside, rows of shelves hold canned ham, cereals, beans, bread, soup and juice. The pallets of Kettle Chips, also from Calgary, are on the top shelves.

It’s considered food, but Dunbar-Edge would rather have seen pallets of tuna or vegetables.

Part of the problem may have been ordering all 24 pallets at once, he said.

“It seems like they just cleaned out their warehouse.”

The Calgary food bank doesn’t dish out dented cans to its clients, said its resource development manager Nollind van Bryce.

But he wasn’t surprised there were a whack of them in the shipment sent to Whitehorse.

Van Bryce wasn’t surprised by the pallets full of freezer packs and Dove soap either.

The Calgary food bank gets a lot of “reclamation food,” he said. That’s food that may have been damaged when a forklift ran into it in the warehouse, or may have had its outer packaging sliced open by box cutters.

This food arrives in boxes from various warehouses and the Calgary food bank doesn’t sort it before shipping it out to other food banks in need, he said.

“If the (Whitehorse) food bank is having trouble with what we shipped, they should give us a call,” said van Bryce.

“We can tell them how we use the items.”

The freezer packs are great for sending home with clients receiving fresh hamburger, he said.

But the Whitehorse Food Bank doesn’t get a lot of fresh meat.

“What would I do with a freezer pack?” said one guy filling a backpack with food, Tuesday afternoon. “I don’t even have a fridge.”

A lot of the people that come here have kids, said one father waiting for food.

“It makes a lot of difference between paycheques when you don’t have a lot of money.”

The food bank opened April 1, 2009. That first summer it had more than 500 clients.

Now, there are more than 1,200.

On any given day, volunteers will see upwards of 400 people walk through the door.

And summers are tough because the fall food drive windfall has long been exhausted, said Dunbar-Edge.

Calgary could send Whitehorse a couple pallets of food every month, said van Bryce.

His food bank has worked out deals with local freight companies to get food shipped free.

And the 24 pallets that came to Whitehorse were shipped free to Edmonton. Then it was up to Whitehorse to figure out how to get it there, he said.

“But if they could work out a deal with trucks that are going up empty, or manage to find some space on a semi for a couple pallets every month,” Calgary could help out, said van Bryce.

With food scarce all summer, Dunbar-Edge felt more like a warehouse manager than an executive director, he said.

After the fall food drive, he hopes to have more time to look at other options, like freight agreements, buying from southern distributors, and doing a cost-benefit analysis on the 24 pallets from Calgary.

The $6,500 it cost to ship the pallets north may have been better spent just buying food here, he said.

It’s all a learning experience.

And next summer we’ll be better prepared, said Dunbar-Edge.

A pregnant mom sat waiting for food while her little girl played in the children’s area with donated toys.

“It helps feed me, my daughter and the baby,” she said patting her tummy.

In the back room, there’s another little girl.

She’s not playing with the kids out front.

Eleven-year-old Sabine Anderson is bagging oatmeal, to give to the waiting families.

She volunteers here because it’s important, she says.

The pallet full of Dove soap is stacked above the table where she’s working.

“If you’ve got dry skin, come by, make a donation and get a bar of Dove,” joked Dunbar-Edge.

Then he was off to fill another order.

Contact Genesee Keevil at