September 23, 2020

BY LAURIE SNELL

Kitchener-Waterloo is giving back in more weighs than one with the Great Canadian Food Fight. With cans clinking, noodles shaking and boxes hitting the scales, the Food Bank of Waterloo Region had 48 hours to bring in more pounds of foods than the food banks of Victoria, Prince Albert, Regina and Halifax – with one national goal in mind.

“Why are we doing this,” Ruth Friendship-Keller, community partnerships manager at the Food Bank of Waterloo Region, said to a room full of volunteers.

“So no one goes hungry,” the room full of students, workers, volunteers, business people and organizers said in unison.

The Great Canadian Food Fight is set up so that thousands of individuals who access food bank services will benefit, even though only one region wins the heavyweight title of highest contributor. This is the second time our local food bank has participated, with a total weigh-in of over 135,000 lbs. in the first year.

Slightly underweight in comparison to last year, this year Kitchener-Waterloo received 118,059 lbs. in donations, coming in second place overall. However, it was far behind the winner, the Regina Food Bank, which collected a whopping 294,834 lbs., for a national total of 599,815 lbs.
The success of the Great Canadian Food Fight will allow the Food Bank of Waterloo Region to feed the area for the next six weeks.

Donations often decline during non-peak seasons such as late spring and summer, because students are out of school and charitable drives tend to target those in need during the holidays, rather than year-round. With Thanksgiving over and Halloween approaching, timing could not have been better.

“You see this up and down of donations coming in, and in the meantime … we’re still distributing 20,000 lbs.-plus of non-perishable food every week. We need this big fall influx to keep going,” Friendship-Keller said.
Running from Oct. 17 to 19, the Great Canadian Food Fight provided the opportunity to be a part of, engage in and give back to the community – as a volunteer, donor, organizer or recipient.

“We had 2,400 volunteers last year. You can’t move four million lbs. of food (each year) without volunteers,” Friendship-Keller said.

Every donation, whether it was a few cans or boxes of non-perishable goods from an individual, or large, bulk orders from corporations, was weighed upon receipt at the 50 Alpine Crt. warehouse and added to the total weigh-in.

While accepting donations is easy, it is the sorting of non-perishables that requires a lot of attention to detail. “The community donations that come in – they are all sorts of things. When you do a food drive you don’t just collect one item, you get a huge assortment,” Friendship-Keller said.

With sorting and donations ending at 6 p.m. on Oct. 19, it was all about competitive sorting with half-hour sessions per competition on Oct. 18.

Tape ripping, mumbling questions to one another about where things go, cardboard draped all over the tables, cheering, chanting, carts rolling and pump trucks bringing thousands of pounds of food in for teams to sort, the Corporate Food Sort Challenge came in six waves on day two.

Teams such as the Boardwalk Angels, Team Smorgasbord, Kitchener Rangers, Conestoga Packing Pros, Eastwood Collegiate Institute’s Youth in Action, the Forest Heights Trojan Torches and six other teams, vied for a few titles. Prizes were awarded for the fastest food sorters, top fundraiser, best dressed, best team name and most spirited.

The 12 teams began the Sort Challenge with the initial rundown on how to sort with volunteer co-ordinator, Rose Tanyi. “Part of the food sorting process is not only putting things in the correct categories, but making sure that we’re doing quality control (so) that it’s all safe food going out,” Tanyi said, explaining that damaged, exposed product or expired goods are immediately thrown into the trash.

After hearing the extensive list of sorting rules and categories of foods, the volunteers, both educated and amused, learned that there are far too many types of beans on the market. Retaining that information was essential to their speed in the competition, and that knowledge was put to the test after a quick tour of the facility.

“We rely on community donations, but we also rely on corporate donations,” Friendship-Keller said, as she led the groups through the warehouse, revealing a very precise method to what appears to be canned-food madness.
Maggie Leirsch, 22, a team member of the Conestoga Packing Pros, was excited about helping the cause and engaging in the community. “I work at Conestoga and they asked me if I wanted to do it, and of course I said sure,” Leirsch said, taking the competition very seriously, with black war paint on her cheeks.

“I’ve been with the food bank for four years,” team leader Michael Moore said. “There are some strange foods that go through here … but the point is to have fun and enjoy your challenge.” The food bank sees everything from jellied eel to canned bacon.

Most of the competitors sorted about 1,400-1,600 lbs. of food, with the exception of Team Smorgasbord, who sped through 2,504 lbs. of non-perishable goods. The Kitchener Rangers sifted 1,510 lbs., Conestoga Packing Pros sorted 1,465 lbs. and Eastwood Collegiate Youth in Action flew through 1,852 lbs. of goods.
The Kitchener Rangers and Economical Insurance acted as co-title sponsors to the Great Canadian Food Fight Corporate Sort Challenge. Investors Group Financial Services, Boardwalk Rental Communities and Conestoga Farm Fresh Pork were additional sponsors to this successful drive.

In a media release, Wendy Campbell, executive director of the food bank, explained how advantageous this program is for all of Canada. “We heard stories from donors about why they supported the Great Canadian Food Fight. Some had received help in the past. Some knew a neighbour who had needed help to get over a rough time. Many felt that helping others is simply the right thing to do … the beautiful thing about this competition is that we all win when no one goes hungry,” Campbell said.

To volunteer, donate, or co-ordinate a food drive, visit www.foodbank.ca.