BY KENDA MACLELLAN
EDITOR'S NOTE: Second in a series on food security. ‘Johnny' (not his real name) was every mother's worst nightmare. When he finally crawled out of bed at 1 p.m. he was rude, refusing to go to school and hanging out with the wrong crowd. Eventually, Johnny's behaviour led him through the court system and he found himself doing community service.
There has been an increase in the amount of healthy food grown and donated to the Colchester Food Bank.
BY KENDA MACLELLAN
The first morning on the job at the Colchester Food Bank, Johnny arrived late and unmotivated. Food bank co-ordinator Mary De Adder set him up at a workstation alongside an older volunteer who loved to tell the young man stories of his youth.
Before the week was out, Johnny's mother was wondering what had happened to her son who was now bringing home recipes and arriving early at his volunteer placement.
He had even expressed his love for her, words she had waited a long time to hear. The secret to Johnny's success, it turns out, was finding a sense of belonging at the food bank.
Many people think of food banks as a black and white issue. They see food bank clients as victims of circumstance to be pitied, or feel outrage at a waste of resources on people who should "pull themselves up by the bootstraps."
Life is rarely black and white though, and there are many reasons people find themselves at a food bank.
In conversation with Mary and Darlene at the Colchester Food Bank, and Arlene Stevens of the Salvation Army Family Services, statistics show that the largest increase in food bank use is by people working minimum wage jobs, and students. At the Colchester Food Bank, there were 356 new clients and 691 students, both high school and college age, in the last year.
Food banks came into being to fill a need for ‘emergency' food. Having worked in food banks across the country, I began to see them as a band-aid solution for a gaping wound. Were we doing more harm than good, creating a sense of dependence in a situation that clearly called for systemic changes?
So much more could and should be done - a living wage; increases to Income Assistance; cooking skills for young families; sharing resources.
What I have been reminded of today is that community is built where people are welcomed and respected. Where they find a sense of belonging.
We will always need food banks even as communities explore innovative ideas to feed the hungry. Throwing the baby out with the bath water is no solution. What the food banks in Truro do is build credibility through relationships and give back self-esteem to people whose spirit may be broken. Volunteers who began as clients have a desire to ‘give back.' Former clients have enrolled in upgrading, gone to community college, started a career and bought a house.
There has also been an increase in the amount of healthy food grown and donated, and a renewed interest in learning how to cook the mysterious squash and gnarled carrots.
As we explore new initiatives in next week's column, the lesson we take is that there is room for the old as well as the new. Hungry people are not simply ‘victims' or taking advantage of the system. They are hungry people.
Kenda MacLellan is a community food mentor and a board member of the Living Earth Council. She lives in Truro.