Carl DeLine

Calgarians of the year

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As Alberta’s economy faltered in 1986 and the jobless ranks swelled at an alarming rate, Calgary’s Inter-Faith Food Bank was there, helping to feed Calgarians who might otherwise have gone hungry.

The two men who were most responsible for responding to this urgent need were Carl DeLine, manager of the food bank, and Louis Grenier, the bank’s distribution manager for the past year. For their efforts, DeLine and Grenier have been named the first winners of the Herald Sunday Magazine’s “Calgarian of the year” award.

To arrive at this decision, Herald department editors were polled for their nominations of the Calgarians “who made the most significant achievement or contribution to the community in 1986.” These nominations were weighed by the Herald’s senior editors, who then made the decision to give the award to two Calgarians, not onw. Nine other people who also made a positive impact on the community in 1986 were singled out for honorable mention” and their stories follow the main article on DeLine and Grenier in this issue.

Helping hands in hard times

From the outside, the low rectangular building is simlar to countless office-warehouse establishments dotting the city’s light industrial areas.

On the inside, dozens of people are busy at desks, on telephones, empying large cases of canned soups and vegetables and staking items on shelves.

Behind the front desk, carboard cartons filled to the brin with cereal, bread and canned goods stand ready for last-minute additions of hamburger and milk products before being loaded into vans for delivery.

The combined contents of the boxes have been deemed suitable by a nutritionist for a family or an individual’s one-week diet.

For the Calgary Inter-Faith Food Bank, its new home at 6408 1A St. SW is a cause for celebration. The building is warm, spacious and right next door to the Chinook LRT station.

Half of its rent is being paid by an anonymous benefactor.

And its warehouse space has recently been partitioned to the specific needs of the food bank operation, with building materials supplied free or at cost by local stores.

“Who could ask for more?” says the food bank’s head, Carl DeLine. “It’s like moving into the Ritz.”

DeLine’s new premises are a cut above his former digs at an old Safeway store at 5th Street and 8th Avenue SE. That building is in bad repair and scheduled for demolition.

The move earlier this month capped what has perhaps been the most eventful of the bank’s four years in the business of providing food to Calgary’s needy.

After dispensing a record 350 hampers a day during the 1985 Christmas season (the bank averages about 85 a day throughout the year), the food bank found its commitments had not lessened in the early months of 1986. Donations, as usual, had tapered off after the New Year, and the food bank was obliged to dig into its savings to meet the needs of the hungry of this city.

An appearl to the people of Calgary through the media netted what then-warehouse supervisor Louis Grenier calls “dramatic” results.

“Food and money started coming in. Calgary really responded to our call. There’s a lot of heart out there,” says Grenier, who dedicated the first 11 months of 1986 to the buisiness of sorting, storing and distributing food before he took up the job of running the Inter-Faith second hand store in the northeast part of the city.

Although the people of this city have been donating a third of the food which the bank distributes (with stores and companies supplying the rest), this impressive show of support was proof to Grenier and DeLine that Calgarians could really be counrted on to help one another. Confidence in support from the comminity did not, however, deter them from bringing the large number of Albertans completely without incomes to the attention of the provincial social services department.

Grenier and DeLine have been the prime movers behind the food bank’s achievements of the past year. Both men have deep religious convictions and see their work as a calling from God. It is for their achievements this past year that the Herald has named Grenier and DeLine “Calgarians of the year,” the first to be honored with this award.

DeLine, 36, former pastor of the Evangelical Covenant Church, effectively heads the food bank but prefers the title of community liason officer.

“God calls his people into various ministries,” is how he answers questions about why he exchanged pastoral work for his present post.

A clue to his motives may be seen in the fact that DeLine derives his fun from “going down to the 8th Avenue mall and watching people. Some people go to mountains to find God. I find Him in people on the streets.”

From the time he was baptized at the age of six, DeLine knew he had a mission in life. “I didn’t understand what baptism meant but I thought, ‘Well, God, I guess you want me for something.'”

He first stepped out before a congregation at the age of 14 when he preached his first sermon. At 19, he took a few months off from his courses at St. Paul Bible College for summer pastoral duties. He continued pastoring full-time after that, finishing his bachelor’s degree at the college on a part-time basis.

The young clergyman continued studies at Northpark Theological Seminary in Chicago, where he received a master of divinity degree. In 1978, DeLine received a call to continue his work in Calgary as pastor of the Evangelical Covenant Church.

His two-years commitment to the food bank ends in March and DeLine refuses to discuss whether he will extend his term. But Claudia Tennant, chairman of the food bank’s board of directors which is the project’s ultimate authority, crosses her fingers and says, “He’s going to stay.”

Grenier, 32, was raised a Roman Catholic in Quebec and, as a boy, often thought of becoming a priest. “But I loved women too much,” he says with a laugh.

Grenier had been away from the church for almost 10 years when he was transferred to Alberta in 1982 by the road construction firm where he worked.

The Calgary apartment building Grenier and his wife moved into was right beside St. James Anglican Church.

“One Sunday, we attended a servie at the church and I never looked back,” he recalls. “There was so much love in that room that it was bound to change my life.”

Two years ago, Grenier met the food bank’s former director, Joe Edison, and gave up his job to work with him, initially on a part-time salary.

“I felt a great yearning to serve in this capacity. I believe I have been called. I’m serving people and I’m also serving the Lord.”

Through the efforts of DeLine and Grenier, the Calgary food bank has been able to expand its community depots from four to 13 and see its colunteer staff — the life-blood of the food bank — burgeon to 300 regular helpers in addition to many other individuals involved in food drives around the city.

Throughout 1986, it became increasingly clear that the food bank was filling an important need in Calgary. But just how much of a need became a point of contention last spring when a survey of people receiving help from Calgary and Edmonton food banks showed that 20 percent had no other source of income. Another 22 percent were welfare recipients unable to manage on allowances from the social services department.

Karen Norgaard, the original founder of the Inter-Faith Food Bank who ran the operation for its first five months from the social room of the Baker Centre, says, “if an individual receives more than three to five hampers a year, he needs more help than he can get from a food bank.”

As a result of the surveys, Alberta’s food banks were criticized for letting the government off the hook by meeting the needs of people who should be getting provincial help.

As DeLine notes, “A lot of political tensions have developed around the subject of food banks — about whether they should exist or not.”

Talks between food bank officials and then-social services minister Connie Osterman, plus a week-long working stint at the bank by regional services directly David Payley, resulted in a commitment by the province to cover the cracks in its income security system. About 20 additional social workers were hired to speed up the handling of new claims, and information on how to take advantage of existing social services above and beyond basic allowances was made available through regional workers.

Although he has pushed for greater government responsibility, DeLine believes government cannot be relied upon to meet the needs of all people.

“The ideal would be for the government to cover everything,” he says. “But it never works that way. Any government system, any bureaucracy, has its weaknesses and loopholes can develop.”

“The best way,” Grenier adds, “is the co-operation of the social services department is providing one means for the solution of problems.”

The Inter-Faith Food Bank is careful to preserve the co-operation of government and referral agencies, while at the same time establishing its role as a source of emergency help. Food hampers are generally given out as a result of referrals from social agencies of church groups. If individuals show up at the food bank’s door, workers advise them about the fine points of existing social assistance programs before they are given help.

Both DeLine and Grenier admit that in terms of relieving hunger a food bank is only a Band-Aid solution. “It’s a tool,” says Grenier, “to remedy an immediate problem.”

But they don’t foresee an end to emergency role of food banks. “Two thousand years ago, Christ said that the poor will always be with us,” Grenier says.

“As long as there are people trying to make it to the top, others will be left behind.”

One outgrowth of the discussions with the province is still in the gestation stage. The meeting between DeLine, provincial and city social services representatives and several other volunteer agencies brought up the need for a local social planning agency which would have grassroots input into policy decisions.

Meanwhile, the food bank is developing ways by which individuals can determine the amount of help they are receiving and reciprocating for it, keeping their dignity in the process.

DeLine envisions the bank at the hub of an underground network of people helping one another throughout Calgary. The grocery drop-offs at 200 churches and all Safeway stores in the city and the countless short-term drop-offs in the offices and schools are only the tip of this network.

“When I was wa kid growing up on welfare in St. Paul, it was considered shameful to have to ask for help,” DeLine says. “People are now coming to realize that we can care for one another without being ashamed of our needs. There must be freedom to give and to receive.”

He has a letter in his desk from a grade-school boy whose family received presents from the food bank last year. The boy thanks DeLine and tells him that in return for the gifts, he contributed to his school’s drive to help the food bank.

“Anyone who comes through that door,” DeLine says, “has the ability to give of himself in some way.”

The firm that repaired the overhead doors at the new warehouse, for example, gave their services free of charge. “They told us, ‘We never know when we’ll need you,'” DeLine says.

The food bank is also geared to creating jobs and training workers. Its funding comes strictly from private and corporate donations; this enables it to pay the balance of its rent, utilities, purchase food items which are not donated, operate four bans and provide salaries for eight full-time workers.

Many of its volunteers go on to paying jobs. Ross Labadie, 30, was unable to find work when he left the Canadian Armed Services and worked as a food bank volunteer for a year. He is now on the payroll as a full-time driver and takes home about $1,200 a month.

Some find work elsewhere. “We have taken what are considered ‘unemployable’ young people,” DeLine says, “provided them with regular work hours and some experience, and have then been able to recommend them for other jobs.”

While the controversy continues over the role food banks should play in feeding the hungry of this country, their gleaning functions have been largely ignored by their detractors.

(Gleaning and food banking are key words in the vocabularies of DeLine and Grenier. Gleaning is the salvaging of useable food from all possible sources: stores, farmers, restaurants and family larders. Food banking is the storing and distribution of this gleaned food. As Grenier says, it “is finding something better to do with the food our society produces than letting it rot.”)

“in 1978,” Grenier says, “the American government commissioned a study which determined that $29 billion of food was being wasted every year in the U.S. This represented enough food to feed 29 million people. In Canada, we have proportionately the same amount of waste because we have the same kind of market strategies.”

The groundwork for the food bank’s gleaning process was laid by the former director Edison, who built up an impressive network of contacts of farmers, marketing boards and food processing companies from Newfoundland to the West Coast.

“What’s needed,” Edison says,” is people talking to the right people in the right manner. My approach is not to ask for help, but to share my story and let others respond to it.”

Board chairman Tennant sees a time when the number of food hampers will significantly diminish but the food bank’s gleaning functions will increase. Already it is sending substantial amounts of bulk food to about 70 non-profit organizations.

Renovations to the new warehouse include the construction of a giant cold room and an egg storehouse, and Safeway has donated a giant walk-in freezer. Together, these additions will facilitate the food bank’s widespread food distribution programs.

“For gleaning purposes,” DeLine says, “the food bank will probably always exist.”


Originally published December 28, 1986 by the Calgary Herald Magazine (Calgary, AB), credited to Rosemary McCracken.