Calgary Veterans Food Bank closure could leave 'huge gap' in services, says volunteer

Calgary's Veterans Food Bank is set to shut its doors in January and some are worried that the closure will impact the dozens of vets that rely on the service each month.

Canadian Legacy Project says they tried to prevent closure, disruptions in service

The Calgary Veterans Food Bank is set to close its doors in January 2019. (CBC)

Calgary's Veterans Food Bank is set to shut its doors in January and some are worried that the closure will impact the dozens of vets that rely on the service each month.

David Klug, a spokesperson with the Royal Canadian Legion, says the local Poppy Fund's board of directors made the decision to close the food bank in order to reallocate resources to other veterans' services. 

Redirecting resources

"The poppy fund is not going anywhere, it's not shutting down … it's redirecting those resources," Klug said. "I think this will be an improvement and will more effectively meet the gap the veterans are facing."

Klug said veterans accessing the food bank often have other concerns that are contributing factors to their need for the service, like issues with income and housing.

"If a veteran is having to access a hamper once a month or once every two months consistently there's a challenge that may not be met just with that hamper."

He said 80 veterans who used to access the service no longer need it thanks to support from the Legion.

Concern vets will fall through cracks

Josh Toney, cofounder of Food for the Forces, which raises tens of thousands of dollars each year for the veterans food bank, said he's concerned some veterans could fall through the cracks with the closure.

"I'm totally beside myself and taken aback because the news is so fresh," Toney said. 

Toney said the food bank used to serve more than 100 veterans every month, before the organization changed the criteria to make it more difficult for clients to access supports, and now the closure is removing services from even more people.

Josh Toney is cofounder of Food for the Forces. (Radio-Canada)

"There's going to be a huge gap in services for veterans," he said, adding that the food bank is, "more than just hampers."

Many veterans are unwilling to access the regular Calgary Food Bank as it's ingrained in them not to take resources from civilians, Toney said, and the Veterans Food Bank provided additional resources and supports tailored to the veteran community.

Toney said Food for the Forces is committed to ensuring that the food bank stays open, or if it shutters, another takes its place. 

"We would like to see something built up from the ground up if we have to."

Canadian Legacy Project tried to prevent closure

Melanie Mitra, CEO of the Canadian Legacy Project (CLP) — a veterans charity, advocacy and support group — said they heard about the potential closure a few weeks back and they were immediately confused and disappointed, but tried to offer a solution. 

Mitra said CLP president, Dave Howard, was in conversations with the Calgary Poppy Fund and brought forward a recommendation that they step in and support the Veteran's Food Bank. 

"Whatever that may look like," she said.

"Whether it was the Canadian Legacy Project doing that or whether it would be a group of partners we would bring forward to do that. But, the point was to not have any disruption to the Veteran's Food Bank."

Mitra said the CLP understood that their recommendation had been approved at the local level, but later found out that the legion command had declined to move forward in that direction. 

"[They] just wanted to move forward with closing the Veteran's Food Bank, period," she said. 

'You should question that'

Mitra said it's ever donor's right to question what is going on with the funds at the legion and the Calgary Poppy Fund. 

"You should question that," she said. "I hope if anybody pulls a move like this, that members of the public that have been supportive of an organization stop and question."

Melanie Mitra, CEO of the Canadian Legacy Project, said they put forward a proposal that would have seen them take over operations of the Veteran's Food Bank without any disruption. That proposal was ultimately denied. (Justin Pennell/CBC)

The CLP used to financially support the Veteran's Food Bank for years, but Mitra said they stepped away in 2017 because they understood they were well resourced to provide the service. 

"We understood that they had about $2.5 million in reserves," she said.

"It's confusing to us ... because we understand that the resources are in fact there to be able to manage something like the food bank." 

Solution orientated

Mitra said at this point it is important not to dwell on what is happening with the legion, Poppy Fund, and food bank funds and where they are going now. 

"That will come out," she said. "If there is any funny stuff there, it is going to come out. And, we`re all right as public members to ask those questions of organizations we support."

But, she said it's important not to lose sight of what's most important in this situation: a solution for veterans food services.

"That is what the Canadian Legacy Project is focused on and if people want to support us in that, let me know," she said. "We'd appreciate that."

With files from Reid Southwick, Nelly Alberola