Thunder Bay, Ont. -- Barb Rickards, a volunteer at the Regional Food Distribution Association (RFDA) has taken her volunteering to a whole other level. Since 2019, Rickards has been collecting empty wine and alcohol bottles, beer cans, and wine bladders that she returns to the Beer Store for a refund. Her efforts have earned $7,000, every cent of which she has turned over to the RFDA. “Originally it all started with going to the Fort William Gardens and seeing them throw the beer cans in the garbage,” she said. “That just broke my heart to see that wasted opportunity.” When Rickards approached the City of Thunder Bay to take the empties to use as a fundraising initiative for the RFDA, she says she was refused. “That was not successful for us at all, so I abandoned that prospect,” she said. “I then began calling random restaurants (to ask for their empties) and the only restaurant that jumped to the occasion was The Neebing Road House and they have been contributing since 2019.” Rickards has mobilized more than 50 donors whom she refers to as her “clients,” who donate on a regular basis. Her flexible schedule allows her to drive to the donor’s place to pick up the empties for delivery to The Beer Store. One of her top donors is the Kam River Fighting Walleye Hockey Organization, which is also a regular contributor. Derek Geddes, president of the organization, says working with Rickards to raise funds for the RFDA is a “big part” of how their hockey organization gives back to the community. “It’s an easy one for us because our fans are enjoying these beverages at our game and at the end of the day, we’re able to donate those cans to help such a great cause,” Geddes said. Beer sold at the team’s beer gardens during home games is provided by Sleeping Giant Brewery, which has created a special brew just for the team called Power Play Pilsner. “These would be the cans that are left empty after each home game that (Rickards) through the generosity and kindness of her heart goes through them and takes them,” he said. Volker Kromm, the RFDA’s executive director, called Rickards “an amazing and passionate person.” Kromm says the money has and will continue to be used for the purchase of food because that’s what’s really in short supply, especially with the current food prices and demand. This week, reports of a Brampton, Ont., food bank turning away international students struck a sensitive cord with Kromm and his RFDA team. “We work with so many international students and we have gone to any lengths to be able to accommodate them,” he said, adding that the organization has begun a new partnership with Lakehead University this school year. “We just started working with the university by supporting their food bank so that the international students have a place to go to get food. (Students) go to great lengths of driving or busing all over town to get food, but I would rather help them at the school where they are. So that’s where our efforts are going to go and we certainly don’t want to turn them away.” Kromm added that the RFDA has also worked with Confederation College in the past but they didn’t require their support in the past few years. He says now that the university is coming on board, they will be trying to do something with the college as well because there are many students there who may require food support. Meanwhile, Rickards invites all local businesses or individuals to “toss their cans and bottles” her way for the fundraising initiative to ultimately help feed the hungry.
Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal