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Conversations with Jake Warkentin

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Q. Tell me a little about yourself.
A. I’ve been in the Valley for 50 years. I started teaching in Birch River and then Swan River, becoming principal of Taylor School. I retired in 2003 and shortly thereafter my wife, Betty, and I decided to help Bruce and Ursula Taylor at the Swan Valley Food Bank (SVFB).

Q. Why did you choose the food bank to give your time to?
A. We wanted to be involved in the community in some way and Bruce and Ursula had already talked to us and it seemed to be a natural fit.
A lot of the people coming to the food bank were parents of children I had in Taylor School so I had a personal connection and wanted to do what I could to help those families.

Q. What were your first roles at the food bank?
A. We decided to join the board and that got us rolling. When they left, around 2013, we reorganized the board and instead of having a coordinator, which we were having trouble finding, we decided to run the food bank by ourselves.. We got a few extra volunteers, which was actually pretty amazing.
None of us felt we were in a position to handle the financials so we recruited Phyllis Hunt who came on board immediately and it’s been a lifesaver.

Q. What are some of the roles of the volunteers?
A. We have someone who picks up from the Swan Valley Consumers Co-op five days a week – bread, buns, pastries and meat. And, once a week we pickup from Extra Foods.
There is a person on wednesdays that does inventory and we do packing and distribution on Thursdays.
Q. What do your volunteers mean to the organization?
A. We have an amazing group of volunteers that make it easy to run. We have close to 20 volunteers that work on a regular basis.
Then we have school groups and organizations that come on a monthly basis to help put together the hampers.
It’s a feeling of accomplishment to be able to involved all the people we do because they learn from the experience and help us spread the word of the SVFBs needs.

Q. How do you keep the food bank running successfully?
A. We took over a food bank that was, financially, in a good position and this has continued. We are one of the few charitable organizations that doesn’t have to beg for money but actually has groups asking to do campaigns for us.
We have a lot of organizations and businesses that support us whenever they are able. But, that doesn’t mean we can be complacent and we are able to come out and do presentations for any group that wants to learn more about what we do and how we serve people.

Q. Why do you think you get this support?
A. We have a very generous community and I think that, in donating, it gives members a sense of pride to be able to help look after those who are less fortunate.
We are also stewards of what people donate and we are doing what we can to make sure the people that need it most are receiving it. People donating appreciate that.
Q. Why is having a food bank so important to the community?
A. We find that many of the people that come are people who are victims of circumstance. They often get financial support from the province or locally but its not enough so when situations arise, like the need for winter clothes, there isn’t enough money to go around and they make due by sacrificing what they purchase for food.
There are others that are struggling with things like addictions that also takes much of their money.

Q. What impact has working at the SVFB had on you?
A. I had the empathy before but it’s the individuals and their stories that get you the most.
You get to know these people past their needs and some of them even become your friends.
When new people come in to the food bank we try to interview them to see where their situation is. They need to be treated with respect the same as anyone else.
There can be a stereotype for people that use our services but every person has a different story and many are ashamed to have to use our services. But, if you need it, then you need it. Maybe it’s just for one month or maybe more but it’s so easy to make judgements that aren’t necessarily true.

Q. What will you take with you from

your time at the SVFB?
A. Between teaching, principalship and being on various different committees, I think this has actually been the most rewarding.
You make some deep connections. This place becomes a bit of a meeting place for many of the people who frequent it. For many, it’s not a place that they are afraid of. We have tried to make it a welcoming place for people to come.

Q. Where are you going now?
A. Betty and I are moving to Carman. We have family there and also for medical reasons.
We love the Valley. I’ve heard of people who couldn’t wait to retire to get out of here but that is not the case for me. I’m going to miss the people but I’m fairly active online and on Facebook and I’m going to try to keep up with everyone.