All it took was two empty wine boxes for Calgary-based food writer Julie Van Rosendaal to create a wonderful way to give back over the holidays.
Van Rosendaal and her family realized the empty spots in the boxes were perfect for small food items like cans or boxes of pasta, so they turned them into a reverse advent calendar.
Starting on Dec. 1, they'll add something to one of the empty spots every day. When the "calendar" is full, it will be donated to the Calgary Food Bank.
"It's a great way to think of other people during the holidays."
"There's so many great advent calendars out there, but it's a great way to remind kids — and all of us — that it's really about giving," Van Rosendaal said in an interview with The Huffington Post Alberta.
"In terms of the countdown, it's fun to put something in the box every day, and think of what someone might enjoy, or find useful or need."
She said the food bank has been on her mind because it's feeding 10,000 more people monthly. About 41 per cent are children.
Van Rosendaal remembers her mom taking her to buy groceries for the food bank, and now her 10-year-old son can't wait for the calendar to start.
"When we were kids, we would get healthy things and things that were easy for people to eat or make... But then she would always buy boxes of chocolates to go to the food bank too," she said, "So my son is starting to think of some treats, some chocolate Santas for some days and some practical food for other days."
She added: "It's a great way to think of other people during the holidays."
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The next time you go grocery shopping, check to see if the store is collecting any items for local food banks, says Kathy Murphy, corporate affairs director at Kraft Canada. "It takes five minutes to buy something, so why not donate it? If you're shopping for peanut butter, buy two and donate the other," she says.
During the year (especially during the holiday season), food banks need volunteers to sort, manage and give out food, Murphy says. If you have five hours to spare, gather a group of friends or co-workers and head to your local food bank. "It's the time of year when food banks receive large donations and they need help to sort it out," she says.
If you have a week off during the holidays, Murphy suggests organizing a food drive at your holiday party or even one at the office. Giving people a week gives them enough time to mobilize and collect donations, she adds.
When you have five weeks, think long-term: Every week when you go grocery shopping, try to save one item to donate. "Have the goal to fill a hamper and donate this to a food bank," Murphy says.
One of the biggest issues for Canadian food banks is the ability to meet the growing demands and needs of serving people in the long run, Murphy says. If you have five months and want to volunteer with a food bank, Murphy recommends talking to them about meeting their capacity needs and working towards one long-term goal. For example, you could organize a fundraiser or help the organization look for sponsors or partnerships.