One-quarter of Kelowna's population depends on the food bank, according to the food bank. If this were true, it would be shocking, a national scandal. Fortunately, it's not true, it's not even close to being true.
But the suggestion is made repeatedly in the food bank's literature.
"Last year, we helped feed over 30,500 people in Kelowna," Vonnie Lavers, who quietly left her position as food bank manager last month, wrote in the society's 2011 annual report.
This astronomical number is achieved only by counting repeat clients. People can get a three- to five-day supply of free groceries once a month at the food bank. So the actual number of distinct individuals actually served by the food bank is much lower.
The association that represents all food banks in B.C. says about two per cent of the province's
entire population gets help from a food bank, a number that has held fairly constant for the past decade. So that would put the number of people in Kelowna who depend on the food bank at about 2,400.
But this kind of low number, while accurate, sure isn't sexy from the food bank's perspective. It helps with fundraising campaigns to trot out numbers in the annual report that set alarm bells ringing about the dire state of hunger and poverty in our community.
Forty per cent of all food bank clients are said to be "babies, children, and teens." The number of people using the food bank supposedly rose 23 per cent since 2008. One in seven Kelowna kids go to school hungry, apparently.
Given how the food bank can't accurately count the total number of people using the service, I don't know how much credence I put in any of these sub-statistics.
But Lavers thought we should not only believe them, but that we should be outraged by them. "It is reprehensible that, despite our relative abundance in the Okanagan, we allow so many of our neighbours to go hungry."
I think what would really disturb people is knowing how much money Lavers was paid. That figure is nowhere to be found in the annual report, but last year she drew a salary of $96,000. That's more than the mayor of Kelowna, Walter Gray, who has to scrape by on $89,000 a year.
Clint Sharples, a businessman who heads the food bank board of directors, says Lavers salary was fair and commensurate with her responsibilities. "The food bank is an organization that has to be looked at as a business," he told me Wednesday. "It has to be professionally-managed, planned, and led."
Still, I bet there are any number of highly-experienced, recently retired senior management types living in Kelowna who would gladly take on the job of running the food bank for free. They'd look on the task as an honour, as a way of serving the community and helping people, which is what the food bank is supposed to be all about.
But Sharples says there's "not a chance" directors would consider seeing if anyone with an impressive resume would volunteer to run the food bank for free. It's simply too big and too important an organization, he says, to be operated that way.
The food bank's operating costs certainly are considerable. In 2011, it collected about $2.5 million in food donations and spent $450,000 on wages and employee benefits.
By contrast, the Calgary Inter-Faith Food Bank, which collected about $25 million in donated food last year, spent $2.2 million on wages and
Put another way, the Calgary food bank, which is 10 times the size of Kelowna's, spent just five times as much on staff.
But Sharples says there are certain base costs in running an organization like a food bank, despite its relative size. And he says he and the other board members, most of whom have considerable business experience, are "very confident" the Kelowna food bank is run in a frugal way.
Though Lavers was often in the media in the past decade, the food bank didn't announce her departure, and only acknowledged it when asked by The Daily Courier. No doubt there'll be a press release when a new manager is chosen, whoever that is, and however much they sign on for.
Ron Seymour is a Daily Courier columnist. Tel. 250.470.0750 Email: