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

Seven-year-old Aaliyah Rosa was found dead in an apartment in Langley in July. (Langley Advance Times files)
Child’s body cold, no pulse, off duty cop testifies in Langley murder trial

The seven-year-old girl’s mother faces a first-degree murder charge

Washington State Department of Agriculture workers, wearing protective suits and working vacuumed a nest of Asian giant hornets from a tree Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. Scientists in Washington state discovered the first nest earlier in the week of so-called murder hornets in the United States and worked to wipe it out Saturday morning to protect native honeybees. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Nest of ‘murder hornets’ found near South Surrey

String of traps set up along border to capture Asian giant hornets

Langley resident Shaun Nugent, who died in 2019 shortly after he saved a swimmer from drowning, has been awarded a posthumous medal for bravery by the Royal Canadian Humane Association (Courtesy Nugent family)
Langley man who died after saving swimmer receives posthumous medal for bravery

Shaun Nugent rescued woman from Hayward Lake near Mission in July of 2019

The RCMP photo shows cannabis that was seized as part of the E-Prominent investigation. (RCMP)
Four Langley and Surrey men charged in 2019 pot export case

Warrants were executed on properties in Surrey, Langley and Delta in June and August 2019

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrives for briefing on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020 (B.C. government)
B.C. records 217 more COVID-19 cases, mask use urged

Infection spike continues, 21 senior facilities affected

People march during a climate strike in Montreal, Friday, Sept. 27, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Judge rejects 15 youths’ climate change lawsuit against Canadian government

Justice Michael Manson has granted the government’s motion to strike the plaintiffs’ claim

A woman walks through check in at WestJet at Pearson International airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Strong support for pre-flight COVID testing ahead of upcoming WestJet trial: YVR

Airport is partnering with UBC, which is helping choose the method of pre-flight testing

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID pandemic during a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau says pandemic ‘really sucks,’ and that Christmas gatherings are up in the air

The prime minister encouraged residents to continue to follow the advice of local health authorities

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

The Williams Lake Indian Band is stipulating no-go zones for mushroom picking in areas burned by last summer’s wildfires. 100 Mile Free Press photo
Who controls mushroom harvesting on Indigenous lands?

‘We don’t necessarily know where the mushrooms grow, how old the stands need to be, those types of things.’

Canadian and American flags fly near the Ambassador Bridge at the Canada/USA border crossing in Windsor, Ont. on Saturday, March 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rob Gurdebeke
U.S. election results one factor that could impact immigration to Canada next year

The survey polled 1,523 Canadians between Oct. 23 and Oct. 25

Most Read