From the shelves of a warehouse to a soon-to-be family of eight’s cupboards.
BY: Ximena González
PHOTOS BY: CHELSEE IVAN
It’s a balmy April afternoon in Calgary’s Beltline neighbourhood. The ground floor of Allied’s Ellison Block, (née Ellison Milling and Elevator Co.), a warehouse built in 1929, bustles with activity. Volunteers of Reaching Families—a food assistance program led by R.E.A.C.H. Ministries, a local charity—are hard at work assembling food hampers to be picked up by families within the next half-hour, no questions asked.
“We don’t ask for [proof of] income; we don’t ask for anything,” says Melissa Gagnier, the warehouse manager.
In the front room, Rick Remington, president of R.E.A.C.H., carefully examines 2,000 pounds of produce retrieved from Costco this morning.
Meanwhile, Gagnier walks through a maze of shelves stacked to the ceiling with pantry staples, filling a hamper for a family of eight. “Two adults and six children, including one on the way,” she says.
Not far behind her, Guy, a volunteer, pushes an already-half-full dolly—each hamper weighs between 150 and 250 pounds.
In the back of the space, music blares from a smartphone while Calah, a bubbly volunteer who helps every Friday, inspects a load of non-perishable goods before they’re put on the shelves. Only damaged items go to waste.
The fare stored in the 6,000-square-foot main floor of the building stretches beyond the hampers. A portion of the food the organization collects is donated to soup kitchens or taken directly to Calgary’s vulnerable populations. “This building is a huge asset to what we do,” Remington says. “Without the square footage, we couldn’t give out a quarter of the hampers that we do.”
In 2021, Reaching Families gave out 44,536 pounds of food to Calgarians in need. At 2:15 p.m. sharp, parents Nathan and Jen pull up in the alley and five children bounce out of the family van. They dart toward the seven boxes filled with fruits and vegetables, frozen chicken, pre-made meals, canned food and cleaning supplies they’ve come to pick up.
As Nathan loads the boxes into the van, the kids gleefully play around and peek into the boxes—they’ll go to bed feeling full tonight.