There’s probably no more fitting tribute to the director of a food bank than printing his or her face on the front of a box of breakfast cereal.
Feezah Jaffer, executive director of Surrey Food Bank, is one of five food bank workers chosen across Canada by General Mills to appear on a Cheerios box. Her photo is on the trademark yellow box, along with a red maple leaf, under the banner “Cheer on the Front Lines.”
Next to Jaffer’s photo is her name in big bold letters, and “Food Bank Hero,” and Surrey Food Bank, Surrey, BC.
“I was chosen as one of five food bank workers General Mills wanted to highlight in conjunction with the Olympics campaign,” she explained, “but there’s no Olympics this year. They already chose the five athletes and had the boxes printed but then, because they are a food company they went to Food Bank Canada, which is like our parent advocacy association, and they said, ‘Well, we want five food bank heroes, one from each region basically, to highlight, and my name was chosen.”
The athletes boxes will go out to the public in the stores, and General Mills is donating half a million dollars to Food Bank Canada as well as $600,000 in food.
Unfortunately, you won’t find Jaffer on your grocery store shelves.
“Much to my mother’s chagrin,” she chuckles.
“Our five food bank boxes are a limited edition, so there’s only one printed of each, and the recipient receives it,” Jaffer explains. “It’s an online campaign to raise awareness.
“It’s amazing, really humbling to be chosen. Mostly because it highlights the work that all of our staff and volunteers are doing. Without them, they’re really the front line heroes. I love what I do but I’m the head of the snake, right. My job is to empower them and to make sure that they have the resources to do what they do best, and that’s to serve people who are in need.”
Jaffer oversees roughly 400 volunteers and a staff of 16 at the food bank, located at 10732 City Parkway in Whalley.
“Pre-COVID we had about 40 volunteers a day, and now during this COVID time we’ve reduced it to about 10, again just because of the physical distancing and just the jobs that are available with the change in the operational mode.
These 10 to 12 people, they’ve been just amazing,” Jaffer says.
“They’re everyday people you know, ‘We’re going to come and help at this time, glove us up, mask us up and let’s do it – let’s help everybody that needs help.’”
Jaffer said her staff is doing “good” and nobody had to be laid off.
”We’re trying to keep everybody’s spirits up. It’s difficult because nobody’s had a break, really. We’re a family and we’re working through it. I can’t say enough good things.”
The food bank in the middle of March saw an increase in new registrations from people directly affected by the pandemic – those who have lost their job, are on furlough, or their business closed.
“People that we never saw before, health care workers, service industry workers, people with their own businesses,” Jaffer said. “But our normal and quote-unquote regular numbers, we really didn’t see an increase because we’re in that time of the year anyway where our numbers dip a little bit, then in May and June they go up. Also I think the stay at home, people are really adhering to that.”
Food stocks are currently “not bad,” she says.
“We’ve been having to purchase more. We’ve been purchasing fresh produce. We’ve had a few very great donors that really come through, like the egg people, the egg farmers in B.C. We’ve had a lot of people come through and say, ‘What do you need?’”
Jaffer said the food bank continues to practise social distancing and will do so for “as long as Dr. Henry says we should.”
“We’re only allowing one family in the building at a time. We have Plexiglas up , like most grocery stores and banks do, to protect our volunteers and clients, vice versa,” she said. “We’re doing pre-built bags instead of having people chose what they want.”
Regular distribution is 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. Every second Wednesday is for seniors, along with the Tiny Bundles program , between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.
“It’s been working well for the last few weeks.”
In case you’re wondering, Jaffer won’t be pouring herself a bowl of Cheerios from her box simply because it’s empty. Instead, it will be displayed in a place of honour in her home.
Jaffer said her brother-in-law wanted a bowl and she had to break the sad news.
“Like, dude, there’s nothing in it.”