Fred Scaife, who championed the Red Deer Food Bank’s cause for more than two decades, is stepping down as executive director.
Scaife joined the food bank just before the last economic boom in Alberta. He saw need rise, despite increasing oil prices. It began to rocket upwards when the local economy flat lined six years ago.
“We’ve had to feed 35,000 people over the last year,” he said — a five-fold jump over the fewer than 7,000 clients he dealt with in his first 12 months with the food bank.
Perhaps because of this rising desperation, Scaife found a calling: “There was hardly a day I didn’t want to get up, get out of the house, and come to work.”
While he admitted there’s underlying stress to dealing daily with people who are financially suffering, Scaife experienced many uplifting moments — such as when former clients returned in improved circumstances.
Scaife recalled how one young man, who had worked off a court fine by volunteering at the food bank, later dropped in to show him the apprenticeship credentials he had earned.
“He just wanted me to know that he had chosen a path in life and was turning out OK… How can I not be happy to have lived those kind of moments virtually every day, for the past 20 years?”
Scaife feels one of his biggest accomplishments was expanding on the food bank’s community partnerships.
Instead of having many groups “inundate” businesses with multiple requests for donations, he convinced local non-profits to allow the food bank to lobby for their collective need.
“Grocery stores understood that I was serious about this. We work with retailers and our trucks are there to pick up whenever they want us there,” said Scaife.
The collected consumables are shared with local soup kitchens and many other groups.
Through the largess of local corporate and community donors, Scaife also witnessed food bank hampers expand from containing scarce provisions to having a plentiful, nutritious supply.
His cardinal rule was always: Make sure only high-quality food goes out — “no mouldy bread.”
Scaife admitted the agency is close to his heart, because shortly after moving to Red Deer from Wetaskiwin in the mid-1990s, he had to use the food bank himself, while providing for his children on low wages.
He personally understands the shame clients can feel, as poverty had dogged him from childhood. His mother essentially raised him as a single parent while his dad was incarcerated.
He believes the anxiety and depression that recently surfaced in his life stems from “survivor’s guilt” from this period.
Scaife has been off on stress leave from his job for several months, and recently decided it was best if he didn’t return.
He already knows he will miss his staff, volunteers, clients — and all the generous donors he’s met over the decades. These include the folks at Skywings Aviation, who have offered free flights annually to food bank donors, and realtor Dale Devereaux, who donates a turkey for each house sold.
“My work life has been so enjoyable — and the envy of other (food banks) — because this community is so supportive. There’s never been a time when I have said I need this and have not gotten it.”
Scaife believes he’s leaving the food bank in great hands with deputy director Alice Kolisnyk, who’s been acting as executive director.
Scaife, a former automotive repair worker, plans to brush up on his mechanics skills and join his children in B.C., where they own a service station near Cranbrook.