From the Factivist, Spring 2012
By Adrian Pook, Volunteer Writer
My worst eating habit is snacking more often than I should. Without thinking, I'll grab something to eat before sitting down at my desk and nibble mindlessly while doing something else, like writing this article. I know I'm not the only one with this tendency. You might also share this habit, and maybe you're even eating while you're reading this article. If not, then I admire - and slightly envy - your restraint.
What separates snacking from eating is the purpose and usefulness of these acts. While food is a necessary part of life, snack food goes beyond being a source of nutrition Snacking is more like a leisurely activity or form of entertainment. It implies a surplus of food: if you aren't eating for the nutritional value, then the requirement must have already been met. It hardly seems fair that so many of us would have more food than we need, while others struggle to keep their kitchen stocked. Whatever the case, we can all relate to feeling hungry.
Now, can you imagine feeling hungry, without knowing when you will eat your next meal, or where you will be eating it? Unfortunately, too many Canadians struggle with this reality. Food Banks Canada (2011) claims that Canadian food banks have been assisting over 700,000 separate individuals in Canada per month for most of the last decade (Food Banks Canada, 2, 2011).
In Edmonton, a group actively involved in the community decided to make food more accessible to individuals that struggle to access nutritious meals. They realized if they could connect those with extra food to those with little food, then the effects of hunger in their community could be substantially reduced. Thus beginning the Edmonton Food Bank (EFB), originally the Edmonton Gleaners Association, on January 16th 1981; the first of its kind in Canada.
The EFB operates by collecting food donations and distributing them to 190 organizations throughout Edmonton. They include social agencies, churches, food depots, emergency shelters and soup kitchens that give food directly to those who need it most.
It is no small effort to feed those unable to provide for themselves. The role of the EFB is a demanding one, and they are regularly recognized for going above and beyond in meeting these demands. In 2011, the EFB was awarded a Human Rights Award from the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights.
Marjorie Bencz, the Executive Director, offered her own insights into what makes the food bank such a successful service provider:
"...you have to be collaborative and inclusive. And when we're working with 190 agencies, we're hoping we can take the best of everyone's programming and work towards some goals that reduce the effects of poverty in our community."
Their primary focus is on helping the community of Edmonton. Only with the support of the community could the EFB achieve its results. Receiving no government funding whatsoever, the organization is entirely dependent on donations and their loyal volunteers to facilitate the distribution of food to organizations in the city.
A huge component of the organization is filled by volunteers. In just about every facet of the operation, there is a role for a volunteer to take on. Volunteers could be doing anything from directly assisting the clients by providing information about the emergency food services available, to managing any number of warehouse activities like sorting food and assembling hampers, or representing the EFB at various special events to raise-funds and awareness.
The EFB staff and volunteers are always working tirelessly, and there's no indication they will have a chance to slowdown any time soon. Every single month, 15 000 Edmonton citizens are given hampers, as well as over 300 000 meals through various affiliates. While there has been a recent 1 per cent decline in the number of Albertans that access the food bank, that number is still nearly 75 per cent higher than it was in 2008 as our economy was in a recession (Food Banks Canada, 2011).
Since opening its doors over thirty years ago, the number of Edmontonians that have been helped by the EFB is enormous. It also appears that there will be many more to come. Despite the magnitude of work that still needs to be done, and help that still needs to be given, you can't help but feel optimistic about the future for Edmonton. With organizations like the EFB doing everything they can to help the less-fortunate among us, it isn't hard to imagine what the positive effects will be on the community.
Its possible that someday, there wont be a need for a food bank in Edmonton. The only way for us to reach that goal will be through sustained community support for the EFB and its 190 organizations. If you share the same enthusiasm for making a tangible difference in your community, you can in a number of ways: by giving whatever food you can spare, or time to help out. I plan on it, or at the very least, feeling very guilty the next time I help myself to a snack I don't need.
Food Banks Canada (2011). Hunger Count 2011. Retrieved from: http://www.foodbankscanada.ca/getmedia/dc2aa860-4c33-4929-ac36-fb5d40f0b7e7/HungerCount-2011.pdf.aspx