David Long: Hunger is a distribution problem. Here’s how the Greater Vancouver Food Bank can make a difference.
There is no food shortage — just a distribution problem.
Each month in Canada, more than 860,000 people look for support from a food bank because they cannot afford to buy the food they need to live a healthy life.
If you’re a working parent and need your car to get to your minimum wage job, do you put gas in your car, pay your rent or buy food for your family? This is not a choice anyone, anywhere should have to make – ever.
At the same time, nearly 60 per cent of the food produced in Canada — amounting to 35.5 million metric tonnes — is lost and wasted annually.
We at the Greater Vancouver Food Bank want to be part of the solution, but to do so, we need help, from this region’s leaders.
Recently our food bank was forced to move our 40,000-square-foot warehouse and offices from our 17-year home in East Vancouver. Our lease was expiring and we were told that the building was going to be demolished; interestingly, it went up for lease again shortly after we moved out.
Fortunately for the food bank, our new warehouse and office in Burnaby has provided us with the opportunity to share an even more dignified “shopping” experience with our clients through a Monday to Friday permanent food hub on site.
This experience has helped me realize that the food bank must streamline its operations and increase its distribution hours for clients.
Our goal is to find a permanent satellite location in East Vancouver where we can replicate the success story of our permanent Burnaby food hub.
This satellite location would become our permanent Vancouver hub.
Instead of 16 hours a week of “hub” distribution in Greater Vancouver through eight pop-up locations, we would have 40 hours of access for our Vancouver food bank clients at times that work for them. This streamlining would mean more donor dollars are applied directly to acquiring healthy nutritious food, would give our drivers more time to pick up food donations, and would ensure more individuals, families and working people get the food assistance they need to make ends meet.
When I talk about the reasons this is a needed step, I think of people such as Estefania Borja, who came to Vancouver with her family from Ecuador. At first, Estefania’s family did not know about any services to help them in their time of need. Thankfully, her brother’s teacher suggested they access food through the food bank, after he refused to go to school because he was embarrassed that they did not have food for his lunch. This suggestion made a life-changing difference to Estefania and her family. Suddenly they had a place to go where they could get the food they needed, and meet people in their community. Estefania recalled that the first friend her mum made in Canada was at the food bank and they are still friends today.
At the Greater Vancouver Food Bank, we do our best to meet the needs of the people who look to us for support. The working families, the single mums, the new immigrant family at your child’s school, the person who served in the military.
We distribute 85,000 pounds of nutritious, healthy food every week to 28,000 individuals through 13 community food hubs and 74 community agency partners. We are only able to achieve this staggering accomplishment with the generous support of the public and private sectors, including donations and thousands of hours of volunteer time.
We know this is not a long-term solution to hunger and that it does not address the root cause of food insecurity, which is poverty, but we are here for families and seniors now, in their time of need.
Access to safe, healthy food is a basic human right, and we would like to hold meaningful discussions between the the food bank, the lower mainland health authorities, and leaders from the four municipalities we serve (Vancouver, North Vancouver, New Westminster and Burnaby) to achieve our goals. We officially opened our new Burnaby warehouse on Oct. 3 and sent out some 600 invitations to individuals and dignitary’s alike. Burnaby Mayor Mike Hurley was the only mayor in attendance, and was gracious enough to cut the ribbon to rapturous applause and welcome us with kind and encouraging words offering his full support.
We are now engaging Mayor Jonathan Coté in some meaningful discussions and onsite visits to educate and inform his desire for the City of New Westminster to become a strong supporter of the food bank. Unfortunately, we have not received any interest to date from the Vancouver and North Vancouver Mayors.
This is our call to action, and it’s our hope that our political leaders and stakeholders will join us.