The Okotoks Food Bank has a new executive director.

Their search committee has been looking for a replacement for Pamela McLean, who took on the role in 2019, since October.

The five-year strategic plan McLean laid out in 2019 ends at the end of 2023, and knowing she planned to depart from the role in the next year or two at the latest, McLean didn't want to begin a new strategic plan knowing she wouldn't see it through to the end.

After reviewing the applicants, the committee selected someone who's sure to be a familiar face to anyone who's visited the food bank; Bente Yanota.

Yanota has lived in Okotoks for over 40 years and got her start with the Okotoks Food Bank as a volunteer in the mid-2010s.

"They brought me on part-time as the Client Support Coordinator, and I've done that on and off. I did leave for a bit and came back because I love this place, I'm so happy to be here. It's the best job ever," she says.

Learning about clients and getting them connected with the supports they need has been a joy for Yanota.

"Being here for so many years, I hear people's stories and struggles. It's real, and I want to be here to do something to help them. If it's just food I'm happy to fill their stomachs, but I'm here to direct people to different resources too. Sometimes this is their first stop when they're in crisis, so I can chat with them and say 'Oh, are you aware of this agency or that agency,' making sure they get as much help as they can."

She says the choice to pursue the vacant executive director role wasn't one she made quickly.

"I did take some time to think about it because I am mainly working with clients, I love that part of the job, I've really enjoyed interacting with people. There are over 400 visits in the week and I'm seeing them, chatting, saying hi to people. So I was hesitant to step away from that role, it's fulfilling. But I also love this organization and thought I'd love to step into Pamela's shoes and see where else I can go with it."

Yanota will continue to serve as Client Support Coordinator until someone new is hired for the role, and she says she intends to continue working directly with clients beyond that.

For McLean, knowing her successor is a familiar face who's knowledgeable and experienced with the food bank provides some comfort.

"I think Bente has done pretty much every role here at the food bank, so it's a natural progression, it's wonderful how those things work out," says McLean. "I didn't sit on the search committee, but I know there was some stiff competition. It sounds funny to say, but people from Calgary applied!"

Likewise, having such a familiarity with the food bank has made the impending handover less stressful for Yanota.

"All of us, the whole staff, we work together so well. We help each other out all the time and we all know each other's roles."

McLean says the feeling is mutual.

"We have an annual volunteer Christmas party... and when I made the announcement there was a big 'hurrah' from all the volunteers. They were overjoyed, they know Bente, they don't have to learn a new person's style. I believe it's going to be a fairly seamless handover."

She says she'll remain on the board of directors for both the Okotoks Food Bank and Food Banks Alberta, and she'll be available to provide help and advice to Yanota, should she need it.

Yanota will officially take on the role when the food bank reopens on January 2.

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