B.C. VIEWS: Hunger does not end with the season

B.C. VIEWS: Hunger does not end with the season

Despite innovations in food distribution, the need is still there in B.C. communities

The first food bank I ever visited was one I went there to photograph. I was a first-year journalism student, armed with a borrowed Canon AE1, a fresh roll of TMax film, and a desire to get something “edgy.”

It was a tiny food bank, given the size of the city it served. But it was bustling. Behind the counter, volunteers scurried to fill and sort hampers. People patiently waited in line – their moods a mix of hope and apprehension.

The picture I came away with was of a middle-aged man, his one elbow propped on the countertop, his forehead cradled in his hand so his eyes were partly covered from my camera’s prying lens.

That photo has long since disappeared, but the memory has never faded.

ALSO READ: Dallas Smith, Terri Clark to perform on CP Holiday Train’s B.C. stops

As someone who grew up in the sheltered comfort of suburbia, I didn’t have a lot of experience with food banks. I hoped they were an aberration of the mid-’80s economic recession, but I was wrong.

Today, food banks are hardly a rarity. They can be found in every B.C. community – something that becomes even more obvious around Christmas time. Venture anywhere and you are reminded of the need to stock those shelves or offer financial support.

And the need is great.

In B.C., it is estimated 80,000 people rely on food banks every month, according to Food Banks BC.

Nationwide, that number grows to 1.1 million– one-third of them children, according to a study released by Food Banks Canada earlier this year.

So who are these people? Nearly half are people living alone, struggling to pay bills, afford rent and buy groceries. A growing number are seniors (11,000), people living with disabilities, or counting on social assistance.

Often food bank use is only temporary – a bridge to overcome an unexpected financial crisis, or to free up money for other priorities (like Christmas gifts for the kids).

Since the mid-’80, food bank use has grown, but it has also changed. Food programs now help feed hungry children at school, or educate their parents in community programs that show them how to prepare healthy and economical meals.

But the biggest change is the most innovative.

Once upon a time, canned goods and dried pasta dominated food bank shelves. The problem was storage. Food banks lacked the facilities to handle perishable products.

That began changing a few years ago with the launch of Food Bank BC’s “Perishable Food Recovery Program.”

With the help of a $10-million government grant, nearly 90 food banks in the province were retrofitted to provide refrigerator and freezer space to accommodate fresh fruit and vegetables, dairy products and foods rich in protein.

Then, through a partnership with major grocery chains, local farmers and other distributors, the program was able to divert food that would otherwise be thrown away.

The food is perfectly edible. It is simply approaching its best-before date, or doesn’t meet the aesthetic demands of fussy shoppers.

It is a classic win-win. More food (fresher and more nutritious) gets to those who need it, and less (an estimated $6-billion worth) goes into landfills.

Of course, food banks still need our support. And not just at Christmas time. Hunger and food insecurity might seem more obvious this time of year, but they are always present in our communities.

So, yes, make that donation. But remember, the need is there long after the decorations have been put away and the red kettle bells go silent.

Greg Knill is a columnist and former Black Press editor. Email him at greg.knill@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A Grand Forks Fire/Rescue water tanker makes it way up the hill on Gibbs Creek Road after a homeowner doused a chimney fire Wednesday, Jan. 20. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Rural Grand Forks homeowner douses chimney fire

Grand Forks Fire/Rescue said the man’s quick thinking put out the flames

Amanda Parsons, a registered nurse on staff at the Northwood Care facility, administers a dose of the Moderna vaccine to Ann Hicks, 77, in Halifax on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan-Pool
61 new COVID-19 cases, two more deaths in Interior Health

Twenty-nine people are in hospital, seven of whom are in intensive care

(Big White Ski Resort)
28 more cases of COVID-19 linked to Big White cluster

More than 200 cases have been identified since the cluster was announced

Community mental health workers are in high demand, and a new program at Selkirk College will provide opportunities in this field. File Photo
Selkirk College to train community mental health workers

Twelve students will complete two courses enabling them to work in health and human services

Dr. Cori Lausen, bat specialist, has questions about logging in an unusual bat habitat near Beasley. Photo: Submitted
Kaslo biologist questions logging at unique West Kootenay bat site

Dr. Cori Lausen, a bat specialist, studies a population of bats above Beasley

A woman writes a message on a memorial mural wall by street artist James “Smokey Devil” Hardy during a memorial to remember victims of illicit drug overdose deaths on International Overdose Awareness Day, in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, on Monday, August 31, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. paramedics respond to record-breaking number of overdose calls in 2020

On the front lines, COVID-19 has not only led to more calls, but increased the complexity

(Thesendboys/Instagram)
Video of man doing backflip off Vancouver bridge draws police condemnation

Group says in Instagram story that they ‘don’t do it for the clout’

Inspection of bridge crossing on a B.C. forest service road. (B.C. Forest Practices Board)
B.C. falling behind in maintenance of forest service roads

Auditor finds nearly half of bridges overdue for repair

(Black Press Media files)
Woman steals bottles of wine after brandishing stun baton in New Westminster

Police say the female suspect was wearing a beige trench coat with fur lining

Stand up paddleboarder Christie Jamieson is humbled to her knees as a pod of transient orcas put on a dramatic show on Jan. 19 in the Ucluelet Harbour. (Nora O’Malley photo)
UPDATED WITH VIDEO: Vancouver Island paddle boarder surrounded by pod of orcas

“My whole body is still shaking. I don’t even know what to do with this energy.”

Toronto’s Mass Vaccination Clinic is shown on Sunday January 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Canadian malls, conference centres, hotels offer up space for COVID vaccination centres

Commercial real estate association REALPAC said that a similar initiative was seeing success in the U.K.

Kamala Harris and Joe Biden are sworn into office on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. (Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP)
Joe Biden has been sworn in as the 46th president of the United States

About 25,000 National Guard members have been dispatched to Washington

A memorial for the fatal bus crash involving the Humboldt Broncos hockey team at the intersection of Highways 35 and 335 near Tisdale, Tuesday, October 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards
‘End of the road:’ Truck driver in Humboldt Broncos crash awaits deportation decision

Sidhu was sentenced almost two years ago to eight years after pleading guilty to dangerous driving

Most Read