CEO of the Calgary Food Bank shares his story and the significance of a recent agreement made with MRU

A lady searched through a crowded event determined to find the people who helped her out. “Are you with the Food Bank?” she asked repeatedly. Eventually, someone was able to point her to the right person.

The lady was directed to James McAra, CEO of the Calgary Food Bank. She looked him square in the face and said, “Thank you, you were there when I needed you.”

McAra has had several of these rewarding experiences while working with the food bank, an organization that does everything it can to feed the stomachs of hungry Calgarians – and recently formed a partnership with Mount Royal University that could help forge a path to a hunger-less society.

His story

But this wasn’t the direction McAra saw his life going when he went to school in pursuit of physical education.

From a young age he played anything he could. “Anytime I could try something physical I would get into it,” he said.

McAra especially loved hockey, but because he didn’t have the right size and ability he turned his focus from the NHL, to becoming an athletic therapist.

So with a bachelor in physical education and some business courses on the side, McAra got involved in the not-for-profit sports world, using his skills to run the organizations.

McAra’s transition from that world to joining the Calgary Food Bank was not planned.

That’s not to say that McAra didn’t think sharing food was important. He says he always did, having had an experience with the food bank back when he was in University.Supporting your local food bank can relieve immense pressures from families who are struggling to make ends meet, and the need for donations has only increased with the economic downturn. Photo by Amy Simpson

“It was just sort of in the background, but not, ‘oh I’m going to be in the food bank one day.’”

So when he landed a job there in 2 000 it was “truly luck.”

But that luck has been good for the food bank too. McAra – who is now the chief executive officer – believes his background actually helps him lead the organization well.

“I take my skills of working with individuals and working with teams, and say, rather than putting a puck in the net, how do we put food on a plate?”

Their goal

Last year, the Food Bank fed 132 469 people, and according to their 2014 fact sheet, 43 per cent of those were children. Not only is it an important resource in Calgary, it is one of the only ones that does food.

But although the food bank strives to provide food for everyone in need, the biggest goal of the organization is to become unneeded.

“You can close a food bank if you start to deal with the root causes that lead to a person needing a food bank,” McAra explained. And he believes that the recent partnership agreement signed with Mount Royal University is a step in the right direction.

The partnership

Many factors are leading to the increased need for food bank donations. The economic downturn has increased unemployment, rising global food prices are making basic items much more expensive and the low Canadian dollar makes importing food even more expensive. Photo by Amy SimpsonMount Royal and the food bank have a long history built on personal relationships and individual connections, and McAra said this agreement will only strengthen that.

The agreement will open up communication between the two organizations, allowing them to better assist one another. Faculties across Mount Royal will have the opportunity to find new and creative ways to experience and contribute to the food bank, while the food bank will have more opportunities to teach students about poverty in our community.

McAra listed off a number of ways students from programs such as business or environmental studies could get involved with the food bank, and then in turn how the food bank could get involved in Mount Royal.

“It would be goofy if we just said we are going to sign with social work, or with not-for-profit, it didn’t make sense. So we said why don’t we just go for the whole thing and go organization to organization, and to not limit.”

“You can close a food bank if you start to deal with the root causes that lead to a person needing a food bank.” – James McAra

By working together, Mount Royal students will be able to contribute their abilities to the food bank, and in turn, the food bank is able to invest in future experts, helping them harness the right skills needed to create changes in our community.

“And now we are also building our future. Because with awareness comes understanding. And maybe the understanding will be, this is how we are going to close the Food Bank,” McAra said.

For more information, visit http://www.calgaryfoodbank.com/

asimpson@cjournal.ca

The editor responisble for this article is Nick de Lima, ndelima@cjournal.ca