A week after the doors of the Calgary Veteran’s Food Bank were closed unexpectedly, Alberta-NWT Legion Command has announced it’s partnering with the Calgary Food Bank to continue the essential services for veterans in the city.
The Calgary Veteran’s Food Bank announced in June it would be closing early in the new year, but last Friday, a sign was posted on the locked doors directing veterans to their nearest legion branch.
In a news release Thursday, Legion Command said it’s “working with the Calgary Food Bank to define a program of emergency food assistance and links to community supports for veterans in Calgary.”
While the new plan is still in its early stages, Legion Command executive director Tammy Wheeler said she’s excited about the partnership.
“They understood what we were looking for,” Wheeler told Global News. “They understood people and the greatest response we got was that, at some point in time, they would like to put the food bank out of business so they would have no one needing to access it anymore – that’s what we’re looking for.”
Wheeler said the goal is to “catch veterans” before they have to go to a food bank, to find out more about the issues that are leaving them without food in their cupboards.
“Giving people food is not an answer, it’s just a Band-Aid,” Wheeler said.
“We’re looking at the whole person — we believe that there are a lot of other issues going on with this individual. We know that because we deal with this every day. We want to help them through our service bureaus and service officers.”
She said if someone needs food immediately, though, the legion and food bank are prepared to make sure no one goes without, adding “the branches are set up so we can help immediately.”
Since news broke that the Calgary Veteran’s Food Bank would be closing, at least two volunteer groups came forward with plans to open a new place for veterans to go for food and other necessities. One of those groups is being led by Alan Reid, and has even gone as far as to set up a space, partner with community groups, arrange for food deliveries and licence a name: The Veterans Food Bank of Calgary.
Reid said Thursday he was disappointed to learn the legion had partnered with the Calgary Food Bank — something veterans reportedly told him and the legion said they didn’t want to see happen.
“It just proves that Legion Command is completely out of touch with serving the veterans because the veterans themselves had done a focus group a few weeks ago and stated they would never deal with the Calgary Food Bank because that would be taking food out of everyday peoples’ lives,” Reid said.
“That’s why we, as a group, went ahead and is doing what we’re doing.”
Reid said his group tried to partner with the legion, hoping they’d be on board with their goal of establishing a “safe place” for veterans to come not only for food, but for social interaction and an opportunity to meet with and talk to people they can relate to.
When asked about veterans’ concerns about attending a civilian’s food bank, Wheeler said “the more services available, the better.”
“It’s not saying that they have to go there, but it’s an option. The more options out there, the more people we’re going to help at the end of the day,” she said.
“It doesn’t stop any veterans from coming into a branch, the veterans that are concerned about having to go to a food bank – let’s find out why need that. Let’s ask the questions, let’s not just send them somewhere, let’s not just assume that they need food because it’s rarely just that.”
Reid said The Veterans Food Bank of Calgary has gotten an inspection of their temporary space — the Magic of Christmas warehouse — and are expecting their first food delivery next week and hope to be regularly serving veterans soon after. They gave out their first, small donation of food on Thursday.
Despite the partnership with the legion and Calgary Food Bank, Reid said he’s sure he’ll see veterans at their doors instead.
“Once they see what we’re doing and hear about what we’re doing, I’m sure we’ll slowly get the guys that definitely won’t go to the food bank and I’m sure it’s going to be a lot of them,” he said.
Wheeler said Legion Command had the “best discussion with the food bank” when it came to having conversations about how best to move forward with supporting veterans.
“They’ve got the history behind it, just like we do,” she said. “They’re there, they’re ready, they’re set up, they’re good to go. We’re going to work with them. Anybody else that wants to work with us, come along. But the structure is there. It’s important that we make sure there’s continuity, and that no one is left behind.”