How partnering fed a passion

November 20, 2014
in Community
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Not too long ago, I motored through town with a carload of coworkers on our way to a meeting with a community food bank. The crew of white-collar banker-types I was wheeling around wanted to meet this partner and I was only too happy to oblige and arrange the introduction. While we were stopped at a traffic light not too far from our destination, my car mates noticed a line was forming—one that snaked its way down the block. First they thought it was a sale at a big box store, but as we got closer they realized it was the line for the local food bank. There were moms with their little ones in tote, some down-on-their-luck folks and seniors—single or in pairs with walkers and push carts—a whole cross section of ages and life stages waiting for the food bank doors to open.

The car chatter silenced as reality sunk in and internal questions began to be processed. This was real. This was happening. How could there be that many people, especially families with young children, who couldn’t afford basic food?

The truth is when we’re put in new circumstances or environments, we are almost always challenged to consider new perspectives. I know this, because that’s exactly what happened to the community investment team when Envision Financial and Valley First joined up five years ago. Needs and opportunities that we were aware of in one region became more evident in the other. It stirred a passion to do more and fueled a belief that we could do things better.
Part of our model at First West is community improvement, not just in our own neighbourhoods, but in others’ as well. Here are three ways I’ve seen our special partnership model at First West used to create positive changes in a number of different places. 


1. We shared knowledge and experience

One of the advantages we have through our partnership model is that we can share ideas and knowledge for outreach plans. For years, Valley First had a signature cause—Feed the Valley, which has a goal to raise $1 million for food banks in the Southern Interior over 10 years. Inspired by Valley First’s work, Envision Financial conducted a review of social need in its communities and found there was also a serious food access problem in the Fraser Valley and in Kitimat. They were able to adapt the structure of Feed the Valley to launch a similar program called The Full Cupboard, designed to raise food, funds, and awareness for local food banks. Now, 18 months after it launched, the Full Cupboard has raised more than 17,000 lbs of food and $176,000 in funds. Feed the Valley, meanwhile, is more successful than ever. Together with our community partners, Feed the Valley has raised more than $736,000 and 61,000 lbs of food since 2010, tracking to well surpass our $1 million goal.


2. We helped other organizations

Our ability to share outreach ideas and designs like this isn’t just limited to the internal efforts of the credit union. We also share what we know to help out other like-minded organizations. Last year, my team and I visited Westside Community Food Bank, one of the charitable organizations we partner with. We noticed the staff and volunteers had challenges with the organization and storage of their food donations, so we shared with the food bank’s executive director the story of how we successfully applied Lean principles at First West. We then offered to use what we had learned with Lean and apply the same principles to the food bank, and they were overjoyed at the idea.
Because all of our team members are trained in Lean, we were able to pull together a group of volunteers for a weekend to help the food bank volunteers overhaul their storage systems. We discarded more than 600 lbs of expired food, saved 1800 lbs of food from the trash by marking it for immediate distribution, increased useable floor space by 42%, and created the potential to eliminate offsite storage which would save Westside Community Food Bank up to $12,000 annually.


3. We reached out to communities across B.C.

With one of the largest credit union networks in B.C., we have the ability to address local needs at a provincial level. One example is our partnership with Food Banks B.C. Through a unique collaboration model, online donations for Feed the Valley and The Full Cupboard are received and receipted through Food Bank B.C.’s website. In turn, we partnered together to create a text-to-donate program to receive additional funds. Thanks to this relationship, we are able to maximize our donor experience and increase much needed fundraising online and via mobile channels.
We’re still only scratching the surface of how we can use our unique position as a credit union partnership model that stretches throughout the province. There are still lots of opportunities for us to expand our efforts to invest in our communities and we are always looking for new ways to improve the lives of people in B.C. in any way we can.

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