It is sometimes easy to forget that our cities have people whose greatest concerns are about how they will feed and clothe their families.
With nearly 60 attendees confirmed for our Christmas party, ESTI had outgrown an office gift exchange. This led me to suggest replacing it with a volunteer donation to the Saskatoon Food Bank. Although I suggested a base of $20 from all staff and partners, I encouraged everyone to go higher if they could.
And what a response I got! The staff came forward with a total of $2,100!!! When I called the Food Bank to arrange a time that we could bring the money to them, they told me that PotashCorp has offered to match all donations made in the month of December. Suddenly our $2,100 turned into $4,200! Fantastic! Would I like a tour of the Food Bank in order to get an understanding of where our money would be used she asked? Absolutely! Carla and I would be there on Friday at 1.
It was a real eye opener to say the least. In one corner volunteers take large bags of flour, oatmeal etc and repackage them into small, margarine containers - many of the clients have no place to store larger amounts. Large bins lined another wall, all with words and pictures above them - the mix of words and pictures help the volunteers, many of whom may not read English, get the food sorted correctly. In the middle was a big bin, nearly full of damaged and dented cans. These do not get distributed due to a risk of spoilage. The bin with the least in it was the baby food bin; people simply don't think of babies as needing food too. Other pallets held yogurt, oranges, apples, and milk was stored in the large walk-in cooler.
Volunteers walk in a loop with the empty hampers, picking items from the bins, carefully putting the food into either a small, medium or large hampers. When a client comes in, the size of their family determines which size hamper they get. On the day of our tour there were only a hand full of clients waiting for a hamper to be brought out for them, our tour guide said that many days that there might be 50 or 60 clients waiting.
A common misconception is that anyone can come to the food bank, as often as they want, and get as much food as they want. Sadly that is not how it works, a family can only come once every two weeks, and a hamper will only feed the family for 3 days. In order to get food, the clients must show need, so they must bring identification, proof of expenses and proof of income (income tax return for example) prior to getting their first hamper. Only those who truly need the Food Bank assistance receive it, and often it is not nearly enough - the Food Bank is meant to be a supplement to the family food supply.
In addition to the food, they also have a learning centre where they teach nutrition, and cooking skills. While the parents are in the learning centre their children can be in a supervised environment where a qualified child care worker also teaches them the importance of a balanced diet.
There is also a clothing and sundry items area, here for $2 (and only if the client can afford that $2) a client can get a bag of clothing and their pick of three sundry items ' perhaps soap, toothpaste, detergent, or diapers would be items they would have to choose between. At the time I thought to myself, I sure am glad that was something I never had to choose between!
We learned a lot that day, here are the lesson that I thought to be important:
- Do not donate broken or damaged goods
- Do not donate junk food
- Baby food is in very short supply
- Clothes that you no longer want/need can be dropped off at the food bank
- Donated backpacks are a welcome non essential item, many people are homeless and need to carry all their possessions with them
- Can openers are another non essential item that make life much better for a homeless
- The learning centre is a nice kitchen where families can come and make a number of suppers, freeze them and then take them back to their homes. Here they learn safe food handling as well as proper nutrition.
If you have a couple of minutes and would like to learn a bit more about the Saskatoon Food Bank, here is a link to a video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cm0CaaE7OG0 or to their website http://www.saskatoonfoodbank.org/