How a new wave of food banks are striving to become a force for change

Upcoming webinar! March 14, 2017

As part of our ongoing capacity-building work within the community food sector, we are excited to be launching a new initiative specifically geared to supporting food banks. Over the next few months through a webinar, a training series, and features here on the blog, we'll be shining a light on how food banks can go beyond emergency food provisioning to improve health, grow community, and build skills and confidence among their members.

+ Download our new manual, Beyond the Emergency: How to evolve your food bank into a force for change

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For decades, food banks have taken up the fight against hunger, offering food to those who are newly unemployed, whose meagre social assistance cheque makes them choose between rent or groceries, or whose low-wage job simply doesn’t pay all the bills. What started out as an emergency response to an acute upshot in hunger has settled in for the long haul, with food banks attending — now for thirty odd years — to a permanent hunger crisis.

Food banks in and of themselves cannot solve hunger. People are hungry, by and large, because they lack enough income to buy food. Hunger is a symptom, then, of the widespread poverty that exists in the face of insufficient social assistance rates and a fraying social safety net that makes it easy to fall into poverty but hard to emerge from it. Neither building more food banks nor expanding existing ones will change this.

Instead, we believe existing food banks can be a force for change: they can be spaces to share healthy food in a dignified way and they can play an important role in documenting community need, attracting people to work for change, offering a gateway to helpful programs and services, and advocating for better policy. In our upcoming webinar, Looking beyond the emergency: Innovation in local and regional food banks, you’ll hear about how two food banks are changing in these and other ways. We’ll be showcasing innovation in the food bank world and sharing the action, small and large, that food banks can take right now.

As profiled in our newly released manual, Beyond the Emergency: How to evolve your food bank into a force for changea number of our member Good Food Organizations and partner Community Food Centres have used their emergency food programming as a stepping stone to better health and social connection. The Stop and The Table Community Food Centres, along with Good Food Organizations like NDG Food Depot and Nelson Food Cupboard use their food banks to get healthy food into the hands of those who need it most. This has meant crafting a healthy food policy that includes a list of foods they’ll gladly accept and those they cannot. The Table Community Food Centre developed a Core Foods Initiative in 2014 that spells out the kinds of foods they want to stock their food bank with: things like whole grains, dried legumes, and fresh bread or milk top their list, as do shelf-stable products so long as they are low in sodium and/or sugar. Since implementing the new policy, The Table’s food bank is able to ensure that at least 70% of each food hamper consists of healthy items. The organization's success on this front is thanks, in large part, to its extensive upstream communication with would-be donors that people, no matter their income, deserve healthy food.

Outside of direct food distribution, our partner Community Food Centres and many Good Food Organizations actively empower their members to get together, pick up a pen or a megaphone, and truly get involved in the issues that face their community. Share the Warmth in Montreal, for example, is working hard to develop civic engagement, which will help it address the more systemic issues that face marginalized community members. By hosting presenters and discussion groups on topics such as welfare rights, housing, and legal services, they help their members connect with needed services.

Becoming more than a food bank does wonders to build community and reduce social isolation. Be it through a drop-in meal program, a community kitchen, or a social justice group, offering complementary programming reduces the sense of stigma often associated with asking for help. Beyond the Emergency digs into this, offering plenty of examples and anecdotes to illustrate how food banks across Canada are taking steps to become forces for change.

Download CFCC’s food bank manual, Beyond the Emergency: How to evolve your food bank into a force for change.