Burn the mortgage

Mix two guest speakers with a macaroni and cheese luncheon and 800 diners and you get a $100,000 wind-fall for the Red Deer Food Bank.

Members of the 24 Red Deer Royal Canadian Air Cadets get set to enjoy their meal at the Red Deer Food Bank Mac and Cheese Luncheon on Monday.

Mix two guest speakers with a macaroni and cheese luncheon and 800 diners and you get a $100,000 wind-fall for the Red Deer Food Bank.

“It’s amazing. I’m gratified and overwhelmed,” said the food bank’s executive-director Fred Scaife, at news that proceeds from Monday’s Gourmet Mac and Cheese charity luncheon paid off the food bank’s $60,000 mortgage and contributed at least $40,000 towards food for needy clients.

The money couldn’t have come at a better time, said Scaife, since food bank usage has climbed drastically in the last year.

Statistics show the organization gave out 626 hampers last month, compared to 313 in August 2008. During the same period, 825 adults and 684 children received help from the food bank, compared to 288 and 401 a year ago.

So far, Scaife estimates an overall client increase of 75 per cent from the same time last year.

While food bank usage had dropped 15 to 18 per cent during the last few boom years, the latest jump in clients “is still up 60 per cent from our worst years,” Scaife added.

And it’s not just oilfield workers who are affected by the economic downturn. He said, “it’s the janitor who works for oilfield companies, and the young person who can’t get an entry-level job, the waitress” who has less tips because she has fewer clients. “It’s very complex.”

The first-annual charitable luncheon was supported by local businesses that paid $1,000 for an eight-seat table at the Capri Centre.

The benefit was initiated by local businessman Ray McBeth, who was inspired by similar fundraisers in other communities.

McBeth organized a committee, which lined up event sponsors and recruited two engaging guest speakers for the benefit; former Chief of Canada’s Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier, and Master Cpl. Paul Franklin, a medic who made a heroic comeback after getting both legs blown off in Afghanistan.

Franklin, who was severely injured by a 2006 suicide bomb blast that killed Canadian diplomat, Glyn Berry, said he was glad to be able to give back to an organization that helped many soldiers during their poorly paid days in the 1990s.

At one point, he compared the role of food banks in Canada to the role of soldiers in Afghanistan; both are trying to nourish and sustain a population in need.

“We’re hoping that hunger will disappear in Canada, and we’re dealing with much the same issues in Afghanistan . . . There’s a good parallel there,” said Franklin, who had, earlier in the day, spoken in support of the role of Canadian soldiers there.

While the parents of a Quebec soldier who was recently killed said their son did not believe in the mission, Franklin and Hillier both felt otherwise.

Hillier said he would never stop a bereaved family from saying whatever they wanted; “They have earned that right.” But he believes the Afghan war can achieve its goal with the help of more international soldiers, a stronger commitment from the U.S., and a renewed focus on helping reconstruction in Afghanistan, while also helping neighbouring Pakistan deal with its extremist problem.

The war doesn’t have the same defeat-the-enemy aim as World War II, said Hillier. “We want to give (Afghans) the capability of governing their own country, so they are not held hostage by the Taliban,”

In that vein, Franklin said, “I wouldn’t say (the war) is winnable. I would say it’s do-able.”

Why is it worth doing? The guest speakers showed a slide of an Afghan woman being executed for been seen with a male she wasn’t related to. They showed pictures of Afghan children with limbs missing from land mine explosions, and skin conditions that could be eradicated with proper medication.

One Afghan boy was shown with bare feet as thick snow covered the ground.

Hillier said Canadian soldiers are often greeted by village children who use their fingers to scrawl on their palms — a sign that they want to learn to read and write.

The Mac and Cheese event was sponsored by the Capri, Black Knight Inn, TD Bank, Sutter Fund, and various service and media organizations. Organizers say they would like to make it an annual luncheon.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

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