COMFORT FOOD | Newsletter
Earlier this year Global TV’s Gil Tucker did a story on an art show and fundraiser featuring an up-and-coming local artist, Kale Barr. A self-described abstract expressionist/neo-expressionism working with acrylics, his current work is autobiographical, expressing his life-story. We wanted to know more about Kale Barr’s life story and why he chose to support the Calgary Food Bank with a fundraiser. When we sat down for a chat, we discovered that it’s about much more than receiving food.
Kale Barr is 32 years old. He’s a full-time fine artist who draws inspiration from Jackson Pollock, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Eddie Martinez. Kale’s voice brightens when conversation turns to his passion but when you read how he got to this place of success and how The Calgary and Edmonton Food Banks played a role, you will be inspired by much more than his masterpieces.
I remember thinking it was rock bottom and I was embarrassed and ashamed. But when you utilize it and understand it, you see that they are providing more than food for meals, they are providing hope.
Born 32 years ago in Morden, Manitoba, Kale describes his childhood as a happy one. He enjoyed the usual antics of teasing his younger brothers and being “kept in line” by a tough but compassionate older sister. Like so many Canadian boys, he played hockey and says that he grew up in a loving home that didn’t always have a lot of money, but “My parents worked very hard to provide for us.” Looking back, Kale recognizes the sacrifices and efforts to keep food on the table. He said that his childhood was filled with warm memories like Mom having a loving kindness that was “above and beyond” and Dad being quite strict while also providing the odd ‘secret treat’ to the movies to have one-on-one time with each of his kids.
The family moved a few times through Kale’s early life, and he distinctly remembers when his dad landed a great new job, “We went from having no-name brand cereal to brand-name cereal.”
Around the age of 21 a series of tragic events set Kale on a course of bad decisions and wrong turns. First there was an injury, so he was no longer able to pursue a career in hockey; a good friend was murdered; another died by suicide; and a cousin died in a tragic water accident. Kale’s parents also got divorced and this cascading series of events culminated into a dark time for him. He turned to the streets and got involved with illicit drug and gang behavior. Kale was, by his own words a “lost soul” during this time.
In his mid-twenties a friend told Kale; “Get in the car, we’re going for a drive”. Hours later, they were in Edmonton where Kale was forced to try and start fresh. While the friend offered a couch to crash on, Kale was otherwise on his own and that was when he first called a food bank. He remembers how he felt when he took that step. “I remember thinking it was rock bottom and I was embarrassed and ashamed. But when you utilize it and understand it, you see that they are providing more than food for meals, they are providing hope.” Kale continued to struggle for a few more years to try and stay on a good path but it wasn’t easy. Realizing he had suffered from ADHD and PTSD most of his life, finding the balance of work, healthy relationships and taking care of himself was difficult.
The last time Kale used the Food Bank was four years ago in Calgary. He called and we answered. Kale explains that this time was different; “Although I felt like I had let myself down because I had made some changes, I still couldn’t quite make ends meet; but the shame was gone, and I was grateful.” With the wisdom of someone who has been through very trying times, Kale explains how he sees the food bank, “They’re providing hope, and everyone falls on hard times; the whole world has literally fallen on hard times with Covid, there’s nothing embarrassing about it. The people that volunteer, help and donate are the best kind of people. I’ve had my eyes opened up to see it for what it is; an incredible kindness.”
Although it was just a few times, I needed them, when you experience something so selfless and kinds as food; you realize there are way more beautiful and kind people in this world.
Now that his art is paying the bills, we asked Kale if he considers himself wildly successful. “I was wildly successful before I sold my works because of my lifetime of experiences. I went through so many obstacles and hard times in my life, and I’ve come out on the other side so now I see it as my responsibility to share my experience and talk about my story. If I don’t share my struggles, I’m doing myself an injustice but also I want to provide hope for others who may be like me.” When asked for final thoughts Kale adds, “We don’t get to have the conversations about gratitude enough or reflect or show appreciations for organizations like the Calgary Food Bank. We are so busy and distracted by other things in this world that are truly less important. It has invoked an incredible sense of gratitude in me. Although it was just a few times, I needed them, when you experience something so selfless and kind as food to take away the hunger; you realize there are way more beautiful and kind people in this world.”
Colleen Larson began volunteering in Distribution in 2018. A busy Mom of three kids and a former high school teacher, she has loads of energy and enjoys giving her time back to the community. Colleen explains there is a stark difference in the volunteer experience now compared to pre-pandemic times. “Before the pandemic, I’d come home dog-tired after a very busy 3-hour shift. We helped bag food for clients, and get it out to their cars, there were often hugs, stories shared, and we even got to hold babies. Now, we simply go out-side, remaining socially distanced with our grocery carts loaded up with everything hungry Calgarians need. Not being able to interact with the clients is tough but the highlight is seeing and working with my fellow volunteers,” Colleen said, affectionately referring to her group as ‘the A team’.
One of Colleen’s most poignant memories as a Food Bank volunteer was meeting an elderly couple who needed food support. “I can still picture them: an impeccably dressed lovely couple, they could have been my Mom and Dad, ” She said. It struck her that we may not know people’s circumstances. and it does not matter what those circumstances are, it just matters that they knew to come here for help. And how lucky are we to have people like Colleen and her ‘A-team’ stepping up each week to help support Calgarians in need of food support.
A Word from our CEO
It has been a year of challenges for the world let alone here at the Calgary Food Bank. We continue to focus our energies on ensuring we meet the food needs of Calgarians. 14 months later, we are reviving the Comfort Food e-newsletter to be keep you informed in another way.
We have been here for the community through many crises, but the combination of an economic downturn followed by a global pandemic and its consequences continue to challenge us in different and new ways every day. Throughout it all, we have been able to meet the needs of families who are struggling, thanks to the generosity of Calgarians.
We are heading into the future with a plan to work with key partners and use our voice with greater conviction to advocate for change that is focused on root causes and food security. Change does not happen overnight. We must continue our resolve to move important policy change work forward while feeding people with utmost respect for food safety, consistency and sustainability.
Despite the challenges of an uncertain future, we must take strength in what we have accomplished so far. It is a testament to our ability to know when to help others, but also know when to be open to being helped ourselves. We are not in this alone!
The health and safety of food, people and community will remain our top priority, especially as variants of the virus emerge. We have not had any transmission at the Calgary Food Bank, a testimony to our daily collective commitment to maintaining a safe place for food support.
Because of your dedication to community, we can be here to help. We are open, safe and judgment free.
Partners In Action
Devour Catering and Simply Elegant
Partnering with a variety of organizations in our community is something we are proud of and have we got a meat n’ potatoes story for you that will deliver all the feels. Last year we had a huge influx of potato donations, too many to use in our hampers alone. To ensure they didn’t go to waste we partnered with Devour Catering, a local gourmet catering company, to turn those perishables into delicious soups and mashed potatoes that could be frozen. It was wildly successful, so we did not hesitate to work together again. This past March they cooked up 801 single servings and 102 double servings for a grand total of 1,005 servings of beefaroni. This hearty tasty dish is being enjoyed by our clients across the city and is truly a win-win-win by keeping food waste down, staff employed, and clients fed with locally made fare.
This partnership inspired us to keep collaborating to ensure surplus portions of perishables do not end up in the compost.
Another similar partnership formed when fresh beets were plentiful. Because beets can go bad unless they are prepared properly for fridge or freezer, Simply Elegant stepped up to prepare and store them into frozen, pre-cooked bags that we then included in Hampers. We love to collaborate with others and rescue food to bring nutritious, delicious food to hungry Calgarians.
May is Celiac Awareness Month.
Thank you to the Calgary Chapter of the Canadian Celiac Association for donating over 1,000 pounds of gluten-free oats to include in our celiac hampers.
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A volatile combination of high housing costs, pandemic job losses, rising food costs and an anticipated further pull-back on government supports is creating a “perfect storm” that has Canada’s food banks bracing for a “tidal wave” of new clients in the months ahead. And our food bank is not an exception!
Right now, we are feeding 1,000 Calgarians a day. Hundreds of hampers are being distributed to neighbours, friends and families who need food support during this incredibly trying time. Volunteers make up half of the workforce in our warehouse; they sort, build and distribute hampers.
We were built on a foundation of faith, not as an expression of religion but on the sense of community. Even more true today, when the collective desire to help others continues as the need for food support touches more lives.