Calgary Food Bank CEO James McAra dreams of his own unemployment

The Calgary Food Bank provided more than 3 million meals last year, so it comes as no surprise president and CEO James McAra is one busy guy. But he dreams of a day when that is different.

In the meantime James McAra says he's still the 'chief cook and bottle washer.'

Calgary Food Bank president James McAra

CBC News

6 years ago
James McAra, the president of the Calgary Food Bank, talks about the ongoing need for his organization. 1:10

James McAra started at the Calgary Food Bank 15 years ago in public affairs.

He is now in charge of a staff of 42 plus directing 131 volunteers every day, and he manages an annual budget of $6 million.

"When I first started I was chief cook and bottle washer, and today I am proud to say that I am still the chief cook and bottle washer," he said.

Watching McAra on the sorting line at the food bank, interacting with staff and volunteers, it appears he loves what he does.

But sometimes he gets frustrated the demand is always greater than the supply.

Turning $1 into $5 worth of food

Apparently it comes down to a finely tuned food distribution network combined with purchasing power. In addition to receiving food donations from the industry, the food bank can buy in bulk.

It also can offer tax receipts as an incentive, and it's army of volunteers negates labour costs.

The food bank has been operating in Calgary for 33 years, and it provided three million meals last year.

What McAra dreams about is writing a book — about how Calgary was able to eliminate the need for a food bank.

"I think Calgary should be the first community to close their food bank, to create a truly vibrant community where a food bank is not needed. At that point we write a book so we can share with everyone else how we managed to get rid of a food bank," he said.

With the ever-increasing numbers of people walking through the Calgary Food Bank's front doors, McAra can't start writing just yet — but he remains optimistic.

McAra says policy changes at various levels of government could go a long way to solving the need for food banks.

"We have to have a lot of focus on the long term, but at the end of the day, we will be able to do this."