Q&A with Pastor Wes Brown, Central Peace Ministerial Virtual Food Bank

Pastor Wes Brown

Serving communities for about two-and-a-half years now, the Central Peace Ministerial Virtual Food Bank is operated by the Central Peace Ministerial Association, which is comprised of all the pastors from the 14 churches within the five municipalities that make up the Central Peace – Bethel Chapel of Wanham, Eaglesham Community Church, Grace Gospel Chapel, Saddle Hills Victory Church, St. Francis Xavier, St. John’s Lutheran Church of Northmark, St. Joseph’s Parish, St. Martyr Canadien, Church of St. Patrick, St. Peter and St. Paul Church, Savanna Lighthouse Assembly, Silver Valley Gospel Chapel, Silver Valley Parish and Spirit of Peace United Church.

We reached out to Pastor Wes Brown of Grace Gospel Church to talk about how the food bank got its start and how it works for the people.

Q: How did the Central Peace Ministerial Virtual Food Bank get initiated?
A: I guess you could say it started when a representative from the Spirit of Peace United Church came to one of the Ministerial Association’s meetings and brought to our attention that there isn’t a food bank in the Central Peace area. The nearest ones are in Fairview and Grande Prairie, and, of course, if someone is in need they probably don’t have gas money either to go to the food bank at either one of those places. So, that’s where the discussion began. We realized there are a lot of difficulties with running a food bank – you need a location, staff and so on. So, we did some brainstorming and came up with the idea of a virtual food bank instead.

Who does it serve?
Anyone who is in need.

How does it work?
The way it works is you have to approach one of the pastors from one of the churches in the area and a little bit of information is taken down, such as a person’s ID, just so that we have a paper trail. Then, we give out gift cards to individuals ($50) and to families ($100) that can be used at the Spirit River IGA. We are hoping to expand to include the Co-op in Rycroft, but we haven’t approached them yet.

The IGA was very instrumental in starting this because when they heard about what we were doing, the manager took it upon himself to start asking people as they came through the till if they would like to donate to the local food bank. Before we knew it, through that, we had already raised thousands of dollars, so we’ve had to play catch up ever since. That was such a blessing to start the food bank with.

Besides the generous efforts of the IGA, how else is the ministerial fundraising done?
Well, for one we’ve been putting the word out through each of the municipalities’ newspaper pages. We made it known to them and so they’ve been advertising the need. And through our churches and word of mouth, so the word is starting to get around that the virtual food bank exists and people have been donating and other groups have held fundraisers. It seems every few months we hear of a different group that is putting on a supper or some other event and donating the proceeds to the food bank. For example, the Northmark church out by Woking had a Ham and Pierogi Supper and they’re donating all the proceeds. The United Church put on a Coffee House and donated the money to the food bank as well. Every time something like that happens, the food bank becomes more of an established fact in the collective psyche, I guess you could say, so it’s been really good.

What are the challenges you face?
Number one is getting the word out and letting people know it exists. It’s going to take time before this becomes a fact in the minds of the different communities. The generosity of people hasn’t been a challenge, particularly because of what the IGA did there. Right now, we’re also trying to get a charitable donations number and that takes a lot of doing, but we can still give people tax receipts because we’re running off one of the church’s books.

What have been your success stories, so far?
The virtual food bank has been a success story in and of itself. We don’t need a building. We don’t have overhead. You can give people a gift card to the local grocery store, so they can actually get fresh vegetables and fruit. It’s supporting the local economy by issuing gift cards for a local grocery store. Basically, it’s a win-win-win situation.

Another great success story involved one of the families we were helping. They came for several months in a row and the last I heard the husband was able to find himself a good job and now they want to give back. That’s what it’s all about. That is what our dream is – to help people like this family get through their rough spot and when they turn around and contribute back, that’s kinda like it’s full circle and you know there has been a positive impact.

How would you like to see it progress in the future?
I’ve already mentioned this, but it’s important. We want to become an established fact in our area so that everyone is aware of the virtual food bank and when someone is in need, they just know what to do and that is to go talk to one of the local ministers. And I think that’s a good way to do it too because ministers are in the business of helping people and there is one in every community pretty much, so you have an easy access point. So, for the future, I’d like to see it as something that everyone knows.

The other thing is to see more success stories, like the one I just shared with you – that we are able to help people, but not just as a band aid. To help people get through the rough spots until they find a job and get back on their feet. That’s the whole point. As ministers, we just want to help people.

If you are in need or you would like to support the Central Peace Ministerial Virtual Food Bank, contact information for each church and pastor can be found in the Church Directory in The Central Peace Signal each week.