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'Feeling a need': Alberta ranch community initiative aims to bolster rural food banks

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In response to the demand faced by rural food banks, a grassroots non-profit initiative has emerged to bridge the gap between farming families and those in need within their community.

The Foothills Farm Table Collective is the brainchild of former rancher Jay Cross and Bluerock Gallery co-owner Shelly Faulkner.

“We were feeling a need in the community and tapping into the generosity of the farmers and ranchers in the foothills region, we just realized that people really love the idea,” said Cross.

“To be part of a collective, where people do good things for friends and neighbours, we need more of that in the world.”

The collective's inaugural donation came from Brenda Otto of Tangle Ridge Ranch west of Okotoks. Tangle Ridge contributed 600 pounds (272 kilograms) of frozen, locally produced beef.

“I love giving back, my whole family does. We get very heartbroken when we imagine small children and elderly people and people unable to work, without fresh meat,” said Otto.

“Non-perishable items, sadly, aren't all that nutritious sometimes. We just thought fresh protein would be a fantastic thing to add to people’s diets.”

The Okotoks Food Bank says the donation comes at a key time. The agency services close to 400 families each week and acts as a hub for other food banks as far south as Claresholm.

Executive director Bente Yanota says just like food banks in larger cities, she is seeing increased demand.

“My shelves are starting to look a little bit bare compared to previous years because the demand is so high,” said Yanota.

“(The collective’s) donations are so beneficial, so 45 per cent of our hamper (we) would like to give as fresh items, healthy items, dairy and meat.”

The news of the collective's mission spread on social media, attracting the attention of other ranchers.

"I do know that a couple of our friends saw it on social media and they want to join in. They're kind-hearted people,” said Otto.

Cross says the collective displays the power of community action.

“The next donation is going to be some frozen chickens from a local producer, (we have) pork and lamb lined up and some other beef producers that I'm talking to,” Cross said.

“The idea just seems to tap into that spirit of wanting to support people in the community.”

Presently, donors receive a tax receipt from the food bank.

The collective has applied for charitable status, which would allow it to give its tax receipts and accept cash donations, which Cross says it would use to offset the cost of transportation which it’s paying out of pocket right now.

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