For more than 28 years Darlene Isaak has been toiling as the the person in charge of pretty well everything at the Aldergrove Food Bank but it all came to an end this week.
Her husband Willie retired three months ago and Darlene has chosen to follow him in pursuit of their retirement dreams of downsizing their home and seeing some of this continent in their mini-motorhome.
While Darlene’s jobs at the Food Bank have always been as an unpaid volunteer, her fellow volunteers threw her a “retirement party” on Tuesday morning before they opened the doors for the clients who drop in every Tuesday at the Food Bank’s space inside the Aldergrove Vineyard Church on Fraser Hwy.
Bill Strain, chair of the Langley Food Bank board of directors, joined the volunteers in wishing Darlene and Willie many happy years together as retirees. The couple were presented with cards as well as a large cake, which was also shared with the clients when the doors opened for the Food Bank.
“We all appreciate the job you’ve done here over the years, you’ve done a great job,” said Strain.
Another associate texted that, “(Darlene’s) legacy is written in the hearts and bellies of the vulnerable in our society.”
Darlene responded that while there had been some trying times, “it really hasn’t been a job. And I always say that this service is not funded by government, so it isn’t a right, it’s a privilege to be a part of this service with everything we have donated by the community. Our donors are mostly little people who care about the less fortunate, although we also receive significant support from EV Logistics (the Jim Pattison Group warehouse in Gloucester Industrial Estates) which we appreciate.”
The Aldergrove Food Bank has worked in concert with the Langley Food Bank for many years, pooling their resources and expertise for their mutual benefit. Both of the Food Banks are Christian based, and began as an outreach of the church’s Cold Wet Weather program to help the homeless more than 30 years ago. During the early years services provided included a café serving hot meals, free clothing, laundry and shower services as well as the grocery distribution. Eventually other community resources provided these needs and it was decided to focus on the grocery distribution and use the space to expand that aspect.
George Vandergugten founded the Langley Food Bank in 1989 and six years later it was consolidated with the Aldergrove Food Bank, which was struggling at the time as it had lost its leadership team.
That was when Darlene, who was attending Langley Vineyard church with Willie at the time, was asked to take over management of the Aldergrove Food Bank.
“I heard George Vandergugten talking about the need for someone to take charge at the Aldergrove Food Bank. I had been volunteering at the Langley Food Bank and was skeptical about being up to the job of managing it but I did and here I am now, 28 years later,” said Darlene.
“Time goes by so quickly, you have to enjoy each day as best you can because you never know what will happen. All it takes is one health issue to come up and it can change your lifestyle just like that.”
Darlene and Willie came here from Richmond 37 years ago to take over her father’s business, Gem-air Vacuums, which they operated for about ten years before big box stores undercut their small business. Darlene then went on to work for The Bay for 20 years and Willie worked in construction and retail until his recent retirement.
During that time they raised their son and daughter here in their home near the high school. Their children are now grown and married and their third grandchild is on its way, so it’s the right time to retire.
“The Aldergrove Food Bank provides the basics; canned vegetables, cereal, bread and refrigerated items, but we’re not a grocery store. What we supply is meant to supplement the clients’ groceries,” said Darlene.
“Our clients have always included lots of homeless people and single parents but what’s disturbing is that today we’re seeing more and more elderly people needing help. It’s so unfair that seniors get a small raise in their pensions, just pennies really, meanwhile their rents might go up $150 a month. And there is a serious lack of low-income rentals in Aldergrove.”
Today the Langley Food Bank is open for distribution every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. There are currently about 600 client families registered, and including dependents, they help over 1,000 people with their food requirements each week.
The Aldergrove Food Bank is open for grocery distribution the first four Tuesdays of each month from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Its operation and layout are similar to the Langley Food Bank. However, when compared to the Langley community, Aldergrove is much smaller and consequently distributes fewer groceries. There are about 110 registered families, and on average the Aldergrove Food Bank distributes approximately 70 grocery hampers and 40 servings of soup and sandwiches every week.
Aldergrove Food Bank is entirely staffed by volunteers, with six to 10 volunteers helping with grocery distribution each week.
Both of the Food Banks have been set up in a mini-mart style. Groceries are stocked in various categories on store shelves so that clients can make their own selection from each category. Quantity limits are set depending on the size of the family. Langley Food Bank volunteers assist each client in making their selections and bagging their groceries. Registered clients may come for groceries once each week.
Both the Aldergrove and Langley Food Banks provide a minimum of two days’ worth of nutritious food (breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks) for clients and their families each week. Their mission is also to develop relational bridges with clients in order to discover other needs they may have, and to find a way to meet these needs whether they are physical, social, or spiritual in nature.
The Langley Food Bank is an incorporated society, registered with Revenue Canada as a non-profit organization, and is entirely funded through the support of local churches, organizations, and individuals. It does not receive any support from any government bodies.
Both For Banks have always had many enthusiastic volunteers who help in a variety of tasks including distribution, cleaning, food packaging, paperwork, and sorting.
“We’ve never had a ‘plan’. The Food Bank has always relied on God and the generosity of the community and has never run out of food or had to ask for more,” said Strain.