Donations welcome, but please, no used food

By Jeremy Jagodzinski

EDMONTON — During the holidays, the Edmonton Food Bank hopes to fill collection bins for the needy, but not every donation is worthy of gratitude.

Most people give generously at events such as Candy Cane Lane, the Christmas lights display along 148th Street between 92 and 100 avenues. But the bins for food also receive a lot of litter and used, expired or unsanitary items that end up in the warehouse for processing.

The Edmonton Food Bank logo on the sign outside the Food Bank warehouse, Dec. 12, 2011. Edmonton, Alta. Photographed by Jeremy Jagodzinski

The Edmonton Food Bank logo on the sign outside the Food Bank warehouse, Dec. 12, 2011, in Edmonton, Alta. Photograph by Jeremy Jagodzinski

“We get a lot of toiletries: a lot of it is good — soap, toothpaste, whatever — but also you get a lot of stuff that’s half used up,” said warehouse worker Lisa Drapaka.

“What I imagine for most of it is somebody went into their dead relative’s medicine cabinet and just took all the stuff out and were like, ‘We’ll just give it to the food bank.’… We get weird half bottles of perfumes and denture creams and expired condoms and that sort of thing.”

Candy Cane Lane has been an annual Christmas tradition in Edmonton for the last 40 years. Nearly 300,000 Edmontonians flock to see the light displays that radiate out from the houses.

From Dec. 10 to Jan. 2, visitors are invited to deposit nonperishable and unused donations in one of the many well-marked donation bins.

Depending on the weather and the economy, the event collects 15,000 to 30,000 kilograms of food and household items.

“This is the one time of year I’ll collect a few coupons,” said Jennifer Rolls, who frequents the event almost every year. “I’ll use them to buy toiletries, maybe peanut butter and a few really nice items, things I think other people might not think of buying. And if I have time, I’ll pick up a stuffed animal or something a child might use if I get the chance before going to Candy Cane Lane.”

Drapaka says that there is a simple rule Food Bank donors should follow.

“If you wouldn’t buy this in a store, don’t give it out,” she said. “That’s it. That’s what we say here to volunteers, you know?”

Items that the Edmonton Food Bank often use. These are the sort of unperishable items the Food Bank is hoping will be donated at Candy Cane Lane from Dec. 10 to Jan. 2. and other food drives running throughout the holidays. Dec. 12, 2011; Edmonton, Alta. Photographed by Jeremy Jagodzinski.

These are the sorts of items the Food Bank is hoping will be donated at Candy Cane Lane from Dec. 10 to Jan. 2, and at other food drives running throughout the holidays. Photograph by Jeremy Jagodzinski.

The following staple items are routinely distributed by the Food Bank during the holidays as well as any other time of the year:

  • Beans with or without pork
  • Canned meat
  • Canned fish
  • Canned fruit or vegetables
  • Peanut butter
  • Powdered milk
  • Macaroni and cheese dinners
  • Pasta and pasta sauce
  • Cereal and oatmeal
  • School snack items such as juice boxes, fruit cups and granola bars.

“When I’m giving out stuff to Food Banks on my own, usually it’s stuff I’m cleaning out my house and going through my cupboards and I’m like ‘when the hell was I going to eat this?’” said Drapaka. “But you know the date’s fine it’s not dinged up. I’ve never given anything away that’s been… weird”

The Food Bank is more than happy to take anybody’s unwanted food no matter if it’s dry pasta, canned goods or even pet food. But what they sometimes get instead is empty recyclables, used ammunition, alcohol and even half-eaten perishables, such as a pecan pie with a bite taken out of it.

For those unable to make it to Candy Cane Lane, donations can also be made directly to the Food Bank anytime at 11508 120 St., or at the Real Canadian Superstore on 170 Street until Dec. 15.