One of the more enjoyable elements of skating twice a week is the conversations with Len Barrie Sr.
Our paths cross occasionally on Tuesday and Thursday mornings because Len helps run a youth skating academy at Seaparc in Sooke, where I clumsily lace them up twice a week.
Len, father to former NHL player Len Barrie Jr. and the grandfather of Toronto Maple Leafs’ defenceman Tyson Barrie, is a veritable warehouse of information about the game. We occasionally take turns trying to stump each other with obscure trivia questions, with many of his queries I can’t answer revolving around my beloved Habs. I think the score after a few years of these back and forths is Len 40, Rickter 2.
Recently though, Len, a remarkably polite and humble individual, asked if it was OK to approach me with a question that didn’t revolve hockey. He thought maybe my connections to the community newspaper might be helpful in dealing with a problem that had his face creased with concern.
Len has been involved with an initiative with his church that helps stock the shelves of local food banks every year around Thanksgiving. He takes his responsibility as committee chair very seriously and was disheartened when this year’s efforts came up well short of the mark established in the past.
This was the first year volunteers moved away from blitzing neighbourhood homes with a plastic bag for donated food items out of environmental concerns. Len wanted to know if I thought that was a key factor in what amounted to a significant reduction in the total collected, and if the Gazette would be interested in doing a story to help beef up donations. He also said it seemed like fewer people want to be involved as volunteers or donors, and wondered what I may have heard.
Research shows Canadians are shaking less cash out of their pockets for charities and donating less time compared to past years. That may be traced to the reality that there’s less money and less time to lend a helping hand because so many people are struggling to stay in the black.
The federal government, which should set an example for the rest of us, has been taken to task recently for cutting back on what we spend on assistance for foreign countries as well.
Letters to the editor in a number of papers I peruse regularly contain comments from people frustrated with assistance going overseas when there’s so much need at home.
I don’t have a definitive answer, but share Len’s concern, especially when it comes to giving a boost to food banks. They address a need our parents frankly never imagined by helping the working poor and those down on their luck put a few basics on the table.
If you feel the same way, take a few minutes to go through your cupboards and see what you can spare. There’s a multitude of schools and other organizations happy to take what you can round up off your hands. And it might be the first step toward helping Len’s church feed the less fortunate when Thanksgiving rolls around again next year.
Rick Stiebel is a semi-retired local journalist.