COLUMN: Thirty years of giving
Surrey Food Bank turns 30 years old this month.
It’s an event marked by a lengthy article in Tuesday’s Leader, which takes a look back at the beginnings of the organization and how it has evolved over the years.
At that time, I was a reporter with The Leader and wrote a number of stories about its early activities. Some years later, I served on the board for several years.
One point from the earlier days that deserves mention was the key role played by Cecile Bernard. She was critical to the founding of the Surrey Self-Help Society for the Underemployed, and in the early days of the food bank.
She recently passed away.
She was the spark behind the initial meeting that set up the society, and played a large role at the food bank during its first eight years or so. Her genuine thoughtfulness for people who didn’t have enough to eat was a key reason the food bank started, survived, and continues to this day.
She and the other founders never envisioned that. It was always meant to be a temporary helping hand.
In 1983, interest rates were high, house prices were dropping, homes weren’t selling and some Surrey residents even walked away from their homes, because the mortgages were larger than the home’s value.
Many others couldn’t afford to own homes, and were doing their best to find decent rental accommodation. While there had been some social housing built in Surrey in the 1970s and early 1980s, it came nowhere close to meeting the demand.
Perhaps the most staggering statistic from 1983 was the unemployment rate – close to 15 per cent.
While we have been in an economic recession of sorts for the past four years, it has been quite different. The unemployment rate is about eight per cent.
Unlike 1983, inflation (other than at the gas pump and in our tax bills) isn’t a problem. The prices of most goods don’t change much from year to year. Inflation was one reason the original self-help society proposed a barter system back in 1983.
At that time, there was little leadership at the national level. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was obsessed with the constitution and National Energy Policy.
The B.C. economy, which was much more dependent on forestry than it is today, was in a slump.
Expo ’86 had been proposed, but was facing deep resistance from many elements within Vancouver and from some members of the labour movement. No one at that time, not even the most starry-eyed optimist, would have predicted how successful Expo would be.
Surrey council had little room to play a role in helping those who were down on their luck. Unlike the 1930s, it had nothing to do with welfare or relief programs.
Citizens needed to stand up and make a difference, and that was the motivation behind the Surrey Self-Help Society for the Underemployed. It was a long name but it summed up the feelings of many who wanted to turn the page and look towards a brighter future.
The Surrey Food Bank remains. It plays a vital role in helping people in need, and has grown with the community. While it isn’t a good thing to see growing demand for its services, it’s good that it’s there to fill an important gap.
Frank Bucholtz is the editor of The Langley Times. He writes weekly for The Leader.