As people focus on gift giving for the Christmas season, Bart Plugboer has his mind on another, more global kind of giving.
As volunteers for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, Plugboer and his wife Shirley have raised over a quarter of a million dollars over the past ten years for world hunger.
The Canadian Foodgrains Bank, according to the website, is a partnership of 15 Canadian churches and church-based agencies working together to end global hunger.
The Foodgrains Bank, run 80 per cent by volunteers, includes Salvation Army, Red Cross, and Pentecostal, Baptist and Reformed church organizations, said Plugboer, and they do all kinds of things from drilling water wells, to disaster relief, to supplying seed and farm equipment to needy places, mostly Africa, South America and Asia.
Only seven per cent of the Foodgrains Bank money goes to administration and all the money that goes to food projects is matched by the government four times, said Plugboer.
Plugboer says that until ten years ago the only B.C. Foodgrains fund-raising came from an auction in Abbotsford, but when Plugboer and his friend Gerrit Keegstra heard about it, they and their wives agreed to start fund-raising in the Bulkley Valley – collecting livestock donations in Houston, Smithers and Burns Lake and auctioning the items in Vanderhoof.
They started with just livestock and animal donations – from cows and horses, to sheep and lamas, to ducks and billy goats – until one year at the Burns Lake fair, Tracy Hushard donated a $100 gift basket, Plugboer said.
“That goofy basket went for $600 – like everybody wanted that basket!” Plugboer said, adding that since then they’ve been buying baskets every year and getting all kinds of donations such as saddles, chaps, a mirror from All West Glass, a tire change from Kal Tire, an oil change from Western Pacific, etc.
The whole process is fed with donations: one guy trucks the donations to Vanderhoof for free, another feeds the animals for a week before the truck comes, another does the auctioneering for free, and the auction mart feed and storage is given for free, Plugboer said.
“It’s been a real blessing, to see the willingness of people in the valley… to share with the needy of the world,” said Plugboer.
And now they have expanded beyond the Bulkley Valley and Vanderhoof auction, to organize auctions in Williams Lake and Kamloops as well, but the Bulkley Valley supported Vanderhoof auction brings in the most money by far, said Plugboer, adding that of the $18,000 raised this year through the three auctions, $12,000 of that was from Vanderhoof.
When asked why Vanderhoof does so well, Plugboer says it’s because of the generous Mennonites there.
Plugboer says that the Foodgrains Bank was started by Alberta Mennonites almost 30 years ago, so the Mennonites know what the Foodgrains Bank is about and support it generously – with baskets that sell for $15 to $35 in Williams Lake, going for $150 to $200 in Vanderhoof.
Plugboer says he and Shirley organize all three auctions – he does the leg work, running around collecting donations, and Shirley does the paperwork – and they also have a few people in other communities who help out and collect donations.
Asked why he does what he does, Plugboer said he feels blessed to help somebody he has never met.
“We don’t know what hunger is… we’ve never been hungry,” Plugboer said, adding that we don’t know what it’s like for a mother to send her children out to get water, knowing that they’ll likely be molested along the way, but sending them anyways because they need water.
“We can’t grasp that,” said Plugboer.
“If I turn on the tap and there’s no water, somebody’s going to hear about it – that’s North America… We are so spoiled in our own little country. We throw away more than what those people have… that’s what keeps me going,” Plugboer said.
When the earthquake hit Haiti, a news reporter was talking to a Haiti local, and behind them there was a truck being unloaded with food and supplies with big stickers that said “Foodgrains Bank,” Plugboer said with a smile.
“And I said, ‘Shirley, it’s working! It’s working!’ The reporter never even noticed it… but they were in the background, handing out food and water bottles to the people,” Plugboer said.
That is what keeps him going, he said, adding that with only seven per cent of the money raised going to the organization administration, and all the money for food projects is matched by the government four times – it makes a huge difference.
“We are so blessed here. We have way more than we could ever need… God has blessed me with so much for so long, that I think I have to share,” he said.