As a deacon in the Diocese of Islands and Inlets, I work alongside some fantastic people at the Cowichan Valley Basket Society (CVBS), also known as the foodbank in the Cowichan Valley. The CVBS’s mission statement is “Ensure no individual or family in the Cowichan Valley goes hungry either physically, spiritually or emotionally.”
Poverty is not a sin, nor is it a new problem. Jesus said in all four gospels, Mark 6, Luke 9, John 6 and Matthew 14 – “They need not go away: you give them something to eat.” In each of the gospels, human generosity and faith are part of the miracle of the feeding of the 5000.
Jesus takes what is offered to satisfy the needs of the hungry and multiplies it. God intends for hungry people to be fed, and he calls his people to provide the food.
I recently joined the Guest Relations team along with Irene Carrera Herreros. In doing so, I decided to interview its manager, Henry Wikkerink, and submit this story to Faith Tides after many discussions about the changing landscape of our city.
I asked Henry to describe what changes he has observed in the last two years he has served here. “Over the 24 months, I have been the manager of CVBS, I have seen a significant increase in the unhoused in our region,” he replied. “Many were renting before, but because of the sale of rental or change in them, the situation is that they cannot rent again because of significant rent increases. Some of the guests we serve suffer from a variety of addictions or mental illness, but over 50 per cent do not. I believe that these problems are compounded by living in impoverished conditions and having no access to the help they need, including a place to live.”
“The CVBS offers services to guests of all ages and backgrounds. Children receive food with their families, and the dining area has children and seniors who come for a hot meal or a snack. Many of our seniors come to the Basket Society for companionship. Seniors and families can get their hampers delivered.”
Henry further explained that providing food hampers was the first program offered by the CVBS over 40 years ago. The founders had hoped the program would be short-lived, but we are today with a small paid staff and over 80 volunteers from many backgrounds and faiths.
“We have changed very little in what we do — helping people suffering from food insecurity,” said Henry. “What has changed is how we do it. We find ourselves with more unhoused in our region, and we need to provide not just food, but a safe place for our guests to meet and share life.”
What needed to be added to fulfilling the promise of our mission statement was to address spiritual and emotional peace as well. Earlier this year, Henry told me, the Basket Society received a grant that helped improve how we serve our unhoused guests. The funds allowed us to add an all-season tent to the backyard, doubling the space for them. Many want to avoid coming inside as they are guarding their carts that contain their worldly possessions. The grant also let us hire additional staff whose vocation it is to reach out, support, encourage and help direct individuals to a better life. The other program is supported by the guest team of myself and Irene. Henry believes that it has been an enormous success.
Giving people hope when they feel hopeless is the best food. Henry hopes the funding will continue next year or that he can find further grants to keep the program going. It has changed the lives of many who have so little. This is the first in any of the island’s food banks.
The numbers are growing each day lunch is served, and now, with the addition of the guest team, the hours are extended from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday to Friday, and 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Saturday.
We all know that CVBS is doing an excellent service to those here in Cowichan, but it is putting a band-aid on the problem. We need to pray and continue to advocate for the needs of the unhoused, or these problems will never go away. Housing for all sectors is required. The most significant need we see here in our community is a place for individuals who want to live in a place that is drug and alcohol-free, and to have the freedom to live behind closed doors in their own home.
We need your support. For more information on the CVBS and to help, please visit: https://cvbs.ca.