In Ontario alone, 412,998 individuals rely on food banks and food assistance programs every month. From, The Hunger Count 2013, it was calculated that 36.4% of those turning to food banks are children and youth, while 50% of households helped receive social assistance and a staggering 50% of food banks needed to cut back on the amount of food provided to each household in order to reach all people in need in some capacity.
One Food Bank we visited this tour was in Maple Creek, SK. The Salvation Army organizes and runs the Maple Creek Food Bank which services a 10,000 square kilometre region. It feeds over 40 families per month, most of which live over 60km from the nearest convenience store, grocery store or market. They live in ‘food deserts’ and since there are no public transportation systems, they must have a car to be able to get food. We met with the director, Pastor Gerry, and he gave us a tour of his facility and some insight about food security in the area. In the 8 years he has been working there he has tried to change the way people see and use food banks to give the users more choice in their food. Here are a few of his tactics and why they are important:
1. Established a relationship with the local Grocery Store
The local Co-Op grocer now donates ‘close-to-use-by-date’ food items directly to the bank opposed to throwing them away. Approximately one third of our world’s food is wasted and some of that happens before the food reaches your home. This enables the food bank to have fresh produce and when things are about to expire, the food bank can freeze items like meats, veggies, breads etc. so that they can last longer.
2. Running school campaigns
There is a Halloween food drive and an annual fundraiser at the local schools to raise funds and non-perishable food donations. Getting youth involved in campaigns raises awareness about social justice issues in their community and at a young age it demonstrates how they can be part of the solution as opposed to being apathetic. It enables them to give back and have fun doing so.
3. Relationship with local farmers
Being in a rural area like west Saskatchewan, the food bank is utilizing local produce and several community members donate potatoes and meat to the Food Bank. This not only means there are healthier options for the users of the food bank, but further establishes community in involving more people in the movement of addressing food insecurity in the area.
We were welcomed by Pastor Gerry and are proud of his establishment and the impact it is having on Maple Creek and the surrounding area. Many other food banks use similar models, and throughout this tour we have also come across several other initiatives to improve food banks across Canada:
4. Grow Calgary
This non-profit is a 9 acre farm in Calgary that is completely volunteer run. Grow Calgary donates 100% of the harvested crops to their local food banks to ensure that there is always fresh, local food options for users. Volunteers also learn how to garden in an urban setting and can apply this in their own homes too.
5. Using the Ugly: Gleaning
As consumers, we often assume all of our food needs to look perfect and uniform, meaning that there is a lot of fresh food wasted right at the farm because it doesn’t look the part we have become accustomed to. Often this food has blemishes, is disfigured in some way and doesn’t look like the traditional carrot. In Ontario, over 25-million pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables are left to waste on farmers’ fields. Many Food Banks now have relationships with local farmers and organizations that take this produce and use them in their programs. Gleaning is the term used when orchards and farms and collect this superficially damaged (ugly but tasty) produce and bring it back to the Food Bank, an increasingly popular task.
One of the things that we learned was that community volunteers are integral in the local food movement with food banks, thus it is crucial that we contribute to food banks with our time, non-perishable food items and money. Donations can be made at most grocery stores directly, making it that simple. Food banks have a huge positive impact on a far-reaching scale. So, we encourage you to research about your local food bank and see how you can get involved!