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Volunteers run to keep Banff Food Rescue units running

“We realized how important the food rescue was to the community.”

BANFF – A long lineup of people holding empty grocery bags wait patiently inside Banff’s Sundance Mall, just before 6 p.m. on a Monday.

For the crew at Banff Food Rescue, it’s almost time for another round of serving community members food that would otherwise be tossed in the garbage.

When you live in a town as expensive as a mountain tourism destination like Banff, spending a little bit of cash to get a full bag of groceries goes a long way for the people who help give the visitors a special experience inside of a national park.

However, there’s a problem that can no longer be ignored at Banff Food Rescue. 

This month, Alanna Pettigrew, founder of the Banff Food Rescue, will replace two old and broken down freezer and fridge units that were being used for food storage. The cost is expected to exceed $6,000.

Until then, some food that Pettigrew would prefer to be kept cool will be left and choices are being made on items the organization can and can’t hang on to.

“Well, I would say, frankly, we’re making do,” said Pettigrew. “These two units will mean a lot in regards to storage for us because we really need to replace them.”

The non-profit started in 2016 and is entirely driven by volunteers. It’s open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 6 p.m. in the lower section of the Sundance Mall. Food is donated from local grocery stores, restaurants and bakeries.

Two former volunteers – Thomas Robertson of Scotland and James Blackford of Colorado – were only in Banff for about six months, but quickly realized the mountain of challenges people faced in town, like food security. Banff was recently featured in a food documentary that highlighted the issue.

It’s for this reason, the pair decided to make a difference through fundraising.

“I just find you get a lot back from volunteering and fundraising, especially Alanna [Pettigrew], she’s done so much,” said Robertson.

When the Banff Food Rescue pulled the cord on its aging fridge and freezer, resulting in the non-profit struggling to hold as much food as normal, the pair jumped – or rather, ran – to the rescue.

“We realized how important the food rescue was to the community,” said Robertson.

Already tasked to do a community project through their local ski academy Timberline, Robertson and Blackford thought fundraising for the new equipment would be a beneficial and worthy cause. Now they’re looking to others to join in the cause, as well.

Throughout April, the pair gathered donations and publicity by doing three long-distance running challenges in Banff National Park. Two challenges started at the Banff townsite and went to two popular ski hills in the area and back. 

The first was a 16-kilometre uphill trek on the winding and bending road to Mount Norquay and the second was a 37km jog to Sunshine Village.

The third challenge was the toughest, a 60km run from Lake Louise to Banff that was a blister-infused test of the wills.

“I enjoy running, but I have never quite run that far before so I thought what better way of doing it than challenging myself as much as possible and raising awareness,” said Robertson. 

The fundraiser is active on GoFundMe, with a goal of $7,000.

Pettigrew said it’s incredible to see that, even short-term members of Banff, can create a lasting impact.

“It’s not a quality you see in everyone,” said Pettigrew. “They felt that it was something that they wanted to do more for and I thought that was amazing.”

Banff Food Rescue is always looking for volunteers, and the departure of volunteers like Robertson and Blackford has been deeply felt in the past few weeks.

“They were really important volunteers and really knew how to contribute and to get the job done,” said Pettigrew. “I would definitely be looking for someone else to fill those shoes because they did an amazing job.”

For more information, visit the Banff Food Rescue’s Facebook page.

Other companies in the community have also helped with funding to replace the old units, such as Tim Hortons.

Food security is an issue in the expensive tourism mountain town that has a harder-than-average living standard. Food, gasoline, and housing, for example, all cost more than the majority of communities in Alberta.

“[Pettigrew] has put eight years of hard work into this,” said Robertson. “Me and James, we’ve done a fundraiser, but it’s only a small amount of what’s been done.”

Since 2016, the Banff Food Rescue has kept the community fed when needed. Giving back has been something close to Pettigrew's heart.

“Me and you both know,” said Pettigrew, “if it makes things better for everyone, then what's wrong with that?”

Jordan Small

About the Author: Jordan Small

An award-winning reporter, Jordan Small has covered sports, the arts, and news in the Bow Valley since 2014. Originally from Barrie, Ont., Jordan has lived in Alberta since 2013.
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