“It’s time to acknowledge the significant changes in our communities, driven by a string of debilitating local and global events.
I will start by acknowledging what we all know to be true, that food banks are not a solution to food insecurity. However, in the words of Alex Boyd, Executive Director of the Greener Village in Fredericton, NB, “food banks across our country are tourniquets that are stemming the bleeding.” As we advocate with governments for the root causes of food insecurity to be addressed, we are literally saving lives in the interim. We are not here because we want to be; we are here because we need to be.
When I joined the Greater Vancouver Food Bank (GVFB) in 2018, the situation in our communities, and indeed around the world, was very different. At the time an average of 6,500 people needed our services monthly, and we operated from temporary distribution sites around our catchment area of Vancouver, Burnaby, New Westminster and the North Shore. The food we were distributing was 20% fresh and 80% non-perishable, supplied through food drives and what we could afford to purchase. Clients received 6 to 8 low-nutrient items a week, and our 74 community agencies received whatever was left after the client allotments were made. Our community agency program had a 5-year waiting list of agencies that we couldn’t accommodate due to a lack of food and funds. It was a meagre existence with little to no scalability as an organization to adapt to economic or natural disasters.
Less than a year after we moved our warehouse from Vancouver to Burnaby in 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and in the years that followed came an eruption of new clients. Provincial and global events such as these are challenging and difficult to navigate, and without adequate resources they can easily be the final nail in the coffin of a charitable organization. Throughout the years since the pandemic, we have also seen multiple natural disasters affect BC on an ever-increasing scale.
Since the closure of our 13 community distribution sites in March 2020 (i.e., neighbourhood houses, community centres) as ordered by the Provincial Health Officer, the GVFB has had to move seven times to different short-term locations to maintain consistent, trusted food distribution to those struggling with food insecurity in Vancouver. We began a 3 ½ year search for a more permanent solution that would allow us to continue to serve the ever-growing need. This non-stop search for our next home in Vancouver has strained our leadership, with the constant looming threat of being unable to distribute food in the city where over 60% of our individual clients and 75% of our community agencies reside.
As the GVFB moves into our 5th decade of operations, the need has never been more significant in our communities; year to date, we have seen more than a 28% increase in new clients (on top of a 60% increase the year before), and the number of lives we are supporting has never been higher. Nowhere is the need greater than in Vancouver, which continues to produce the majority of our new clients.
We are thrilled to announce a new long-term lease on a building in Vancouver that will open as our new client distribution site on October 3rd, 2023. This building offers a sustainable future for our organization with room for growth, plenty of storage and refrigeration space, and excellent access to public transit.
I wish I could confidently say that the COVID-19 pandemic was a one-time event and that we don’t need to take precautions as we look ahead. The reality is that we see a growing number of natural disasters, economic crises, and impending emergencies that require our help. In July the GVFB shipped more than 50,000 pounds of food to the Okanagan to support people displaced by the wildfires. In 2021 we sent emergency food relief to Hope, in a donated helicopter, to support people in the surrounding areas who were affected by the devastating floods.
We are incredibly grateful to have the resources and capabilities that allow us to provide critical aid in these situations. These resources come from our dedicated and generous donors who have given their time and money to support our organization. We have a talented and passionate development team whose role is to identify, nurture, and care for our donors. At the end of the 2023 fiscal year, we had generated a $4M surplus which we allocated to our financial reserves. We are fortunate to be in a position where we can use donor funding to support our operations, as well as save and plan for future needs. I cannot say enough about the impact these donors have made and continue to make every day in our communities.
We don’t know what tomorrow will bring, and we want to be prepared for the worst-case scenario so that no matter what the event, British Columbians will still have access to healthy food. The last few years with the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in the Ukraine, coupled with increasing rates of immigration to Canada have taught us that having a solid financial reserve is critical, and quite literally a life-saving requirement for our charity. The services of the GVFB are a core part of the emergency response to many scenarios. We need to be prepared both operationally and financially to weather any storm, literally and figuratively.
Our organization takes pride in making informed choices that use our donors’ dollars to make the greatest impact possible. As a 5-star, A+ rated charity, I believe we are doing this effectively and responsibly. As we move forward into another year of unknowns, my team and I will be working on meeting the goals of our strategic plan in the following ways:
- Focusing on the recovery of fresh, healthy food that is destined for landfill, and supporting the design of infrastructure and systems to divert it into the hands of those in need around the province.
- Increasing the amount of farm fresh produce we recover and divert from landfill, and increasing the percentage of fresh food we provide to clients and community agencies from 60% – 70%+.
- Continuing to enhance our organization as a Top Employer to ensure we can attract and retain the talented, passionate team and Board members we need to guide this charity into the future.
- Consistently raising the necessary funds to ensure the reliable and sustainable operation of our organization for the foreseeable future, and that we maintain the infrastructure we need to be a trusted source of healthy food for those facing food insecurity.
We are committed to the continuous improvement of our operations, while working towards meeting the growing need across the province. Looking ahead another five years, who knows what 2028 will bring?”
— David Long, Greater Vancouver Food Bank CEO