Starbucks FoodShare amplifies volunteer passion and impact in Calgary
Today, nearly 1.15 million youth in Canada struggle to get enough to eat. That’s one in six children. But in Alberta, organizations like Bethany Chapel and Brown Bagging for Calgary’s Kids are confronting food insecurity one healthy lunch at a time.
Brown Bagging began more than 30 years ago to help feed Calgary’s homeless youth. As studies found that hunger at school was a growing problem, their mandate evolved to include the thousands of children going hungry in their city. Now they work with 225 schools feeding 4,700 kids daily. While half are nourished through their central kitchen, the rest are supported by community groups such as Bethany Chapel and the dedicated people on the front line. People like Community & Women’s Ministries Director Mary Dyck.
“I love my work, I love meeting people and I love hearing their stories. I think we have built a trust.” Mary’s smile lights up when she talks about her job. “We are just here to help them make it through a day, through a week, you know, and that trust has been built.”
Mary coordinates resources for refugees, runs clothing drives, and helps organize hampers of food for nearly 150 kids each week during the school year. In the summer, that number rises to nearly 250. “We make sure they have fruits and vegetables and good juice and a healthy snack just to get them through the day.”
Bagging alongside Mary for the past eight months has been Starbucks Partner Manar Al-Yasiri. Mary remembers when they first met: “She was just enthusiastic and overwhelmed by the reach of what we do. Things just started popping in her head and she said, ‘you know, at the end of the day at Starbucks, there's leftovers.’ And now she's coming two to three times a week. It's been a really sweet partnership.”
Manar wanted to give back to her community at the height of the pandemic. When she discovered Bethany Chapel’s food donation program, she realized it was exactly what she was looking for. She also knew she could make each bag just a little more special. “Any kid that just needs a lunch or needs anything, they would support them. And I loved that! But as I was setting up those hampers, I realized I could fill them up much, much more. I can make them bigger. I can add just a few more treats for the kids.”
Soon Manar was organizing deliveries from five Starbucks locations across Calgary. And when FoodShare arrived in the city earlier this year, what started as a collaboration between volunteers became something so much greater. Not only is the quantity skyrocketing, but a greater diversity of food is reaching hungry kids.
This has made a major impact on food waste at Calgary’s stores — and an impact on Manar’s satisfaction in her work. “As a business, we are almost in every home and every city,” she observes. “And with that, unfortunately, comes the burden of food waste. But I'm incredibly grateful because now that food is being repurposed for the people who need it. It gets another life, right? Now I’m the person redirecting the food to those who need it most. And what is better than that?”
Manar and her fellow Partner volunteers began sorting up to 400 Starbucks food items each week from the five stores, noting expiry dates for the families’ use and packaging them for easy delivery. While hearing how much the kids loved the new treats is particularly satisfying, working with FoodShare has made her realize the true potential of this opportunity.
“Starbucks elects to be a ‘third place’ of the community by being a place where anyone is welcomed. But our community also needs that in different ways. If we can be the third place for community organizations, where we ease their burden by giving them food that people enjoy, then they can use their resources to help families with other things, whether it's for field trips, whether it's for housing, whether it's for anything. I think it would create a seismic effect that reaches across the community.”
Both Mary and Manar are quick to point out that they are just one piece in a long chain of compassion. They see themselves as connectors, bringing resources and people together. The two women agree that the only way to overcome challenges like food waste or child hunger is to build partnerships like the one they fostered at Bethany Chapel, then use programs like FoodShare to grow them to new heights.
“I always feel it's just a drop in the bucket. I don't think I'm doing anything, you know, worthy of any great recognition,” Manar reflects, “I'm just doing what I can. And that's what a lot of people do in our community. We do what we can. There's just so many people physically handling those bags in order to reach the homes that most need it. But every drop matters. And I do believe in that little ripple effect.”