Food Banks

food bank volunteer

For many years, I have had a “sour taste” in my mouth in regard to food banks, and have not easily donated to them. But with conditions the way are now, I’m revisiting my reluctance to donate to food banks, and am fairly certain a lot of people in Canada may have to make use of them that normally never would.

First Food Bank Experience

My very first experience with a food bank was back in the mid 1980’s, when I was assigned to work in a housing project in Etobicoke. Within the housing project, there as a small “community centre” with a person that pretty much ran everything that went on in there. It was not a volunteer position, but as far as I can recall, the person that ran the centre was well paid through a division of a social services government agency.

I can recall walking into the centre one day shortly after I had been assigned this area to patrol, to get to know the staff better and learn about problems that might be unique to this particular community, and what efforts we could all make together. At first, everything was great – until the day I walked in there on a day they had their food bank supplies replenished.

I was quite taken aback by what happened. I recall there being donations of loaves of bread, vegetables and fruit, and in varying stages of freshness. On the desk of the person that ran the centre, were some of the freshest food that had been donated. I was then invited to take anything I wanted for my own personal use, including selecting from the freshest and most desirable food that had been delivered.

I was pretty young at the time, and wasn’t sure how to respond other than to be absolutely certain that there was no way I was going to take any of this food, meant for others in need, while I had no problems buying my own groceries. It just seemed repugnant to me that I was being offered this food from the food bank. I was very surprised that this offer was being made to me.

And it turned out that this was a regular practice that the person who ran the community centre would often take “First Dibs” on fresh food bank deliveries while offering other staff the same opportunity before making the food available to residents in the community that might need to make use of the food bank services.

Food Banks Have Since Not Been A Priority For Me

That first experience really set a tone for me as far as food banks in general, and of course, I may have been guilty all these years of forming my own opinion that there was too much possibility for “food bank fraud.” So, donating to them has never been something that I’ve considered. I’ve walked past the donation bins at grocery stores, and ignored the “food bank drives” because every time, that first experience I had comes to mind.

The thought of making my own donation while staff are taking first dibs on what they want to take to their own homes before those in need can visit is something that has always prevented me from donating to a food bank.

Why I’m Changing My Mind

In doing some research on my own local food bank, the Orangeville Food Bank, I realized that there is much more oversight than the one in the community centre of the Etobicoke housing project which was my very first experience with a food bank.

I also believe that the COVID-19 response is going to create some very dire circumstances for a lot of people, including people that have likely never needed the services of a food bank in their life, before. I am not sure if many people actually realize the extent of economic damage that has been done, and while government assistance programs might appear to help people that have been affected, economic history tells us that there are going to be some very severe unintended consequences.

And it gets worse in that not only will there be severe economic circumstances, there are going to be food shortages. I don’t think enough people are taking this as seriously as they should. But then, I’m old enough to remember when times were not great, and as a child, it was not uncommon to eat porridge three times a day on occasions. I can also recall the stories of my parents who went through war time rationing – food shortages are no fun thing to go through.

Food Banks Might Be One Of The Best Places To Donate Right Now

If you can donate to help those who have been hit hard economically, the local food bank might be the best place. I am convinced that food is going to be in short supply, and no ideas of “food security” are going to change that. I’ve seen some really silly ideas from some about what constitutes food security, including the idea that community garden plots are an important source of “food security.” This is absolute nonsense.

While I have enjoyed vegetable gardening myself, there is no bloody way that a 4′ x 10′ garden plot is going to provide you with any “food security.” Absolutely, enjoy the garden plot for the exercise, the idea of getting your hands dirty and with some semblance of satisfaction of growing food! But also be realistic: There is absolutely no way Southern Ontario (or probably anywhere in North America, for that matter), that a small community garden plot wherein you get an allotment of space out of that, will ever contribute to “food security.” It’s just ridiculous thinking based on fairy tale ideas.

I’ve been blessed to have my own vegetable gardens that were more than ten times the size of an allotment in a city or town, and I can assure you that growing lots of tomatoes, lettuce, and other vegetables does have its rewards – but food security it does not have. One year, I had a bumper crop of tomatoes and was able to can them – which meant for the entire following winter, I never had to buy tomato sauce at the grocery store.

But I still had to buy other groceries.

For true personal food security, you need a lot more land than what most people have as a yard, let alone an allotment at a community garden. And, you need a lot of time that most people would not actually spend. The idea of growing all of your own food for the year is a nice romantic idea, but for the vast majority of people, totally unrealistic, no matter what some claim.

One thing about food banks is that for non-perishable goods, they are able to stock food, and that is something we should be thinking about.

I’m not certain that there will even be enough food in the supply chain come three to four months from now, so that people can continue to eat as they have in the past.

Even if you are among those that didn’t lose much income, the wide varieties of food that you have been used to might be hard to come by later this summer. There are a whole raft of issues here, that no government can solve.

IN the meantime, there are going to be hungry people. Right now, if you can donate and are not in need yourself, donating to a food bank might be one of the best things you can do that could make a big difference.

Just some of my own musings while watching what is going on right now.

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