It’s lunchtime on a Tuesday at the downtown kitchen of Brown Bagging For Calgary’s Kids (BB4CK), and a group of 15 volunteers have just made 371 turkey sandwiches and 212 tuna sandwiches. They’re smiling as they leave the kitchen, even though they must be exhausted from packing lunches for hours in a bustling and hot kitchen. Every week volunteers in this kitchen, with help from several locations across Calgary (from schools to senior residences), feed 3,200 kids a day that would otherwise go hungry.
In addition to the sandwich, Tuesday’s lunch includes freshly baked brownies or oatmeal cookies, along with a serving of fruit. The lunches made downtown are delivered in blue bins, and teachers discreetly place lunches in backpacks or in the fridge in the teachers’ lounge – so kids can get their lunch without shame.
“We believe the act of making a lunch gives kids a sense of caring and belonging, which we know is actually the best ingredient for them to stay out of that poverty cycle,” says Tanya Koshowski, executive director for BB4CK.
In 2002, BB4CK delivered 1,200 lunches; now they deliver almost triple that to 210 schools. Food insecurity is inadequate or insecure access to food because of financial constraints, and Koshowski says families are struggling because of the economic downturn. Families can’t flex their house, car, or utility bills – but they can flex their grocery bill. They could have $20 or $200 for groceries for the week. This could mean completely running out of food before the next paycheque, or struggling to supplement their child’s lunch with fruits and veggies.
“The need has increased over the last few years and we’ve been able to meet that need,” Koshowski says. “We hear stories of kids that are coming to school with absolutely nothing. Or a child recently came in with a box of cake mix and that’s what they were eating for lunch. Giving kids nutrition is the best opportunity for them to be successful.”
How to help
– If you’re interested in packing lunches, visit bb4ck.org to contact the organization. They’ll connect you with community groups that make lunches in their own community’s schools.
They can also help you form a group in your own community. If you’re interested in volunteering in the downtown location you can join a waitlist, as 15 new volunteers are needed in the kitchen every day to produce and deliver a large amount of sandwiches.
– Donate through their website at bb4ck.org/donate-now. Each sandwich made in the downtown location costs only $1 to make.
Food Banks Alberta
Food Banks Alberta, the provincial association of food banks, supports food banks in the province and fills the gaps of food banks in small communities with limited resources.
Stephanie Walsh-Rigby, executive director of Food Banks Alberta, says the last few years have been challenging for food banks across the province.
“The impact of the quick tumble the economy took had an immediate impact, and it will be a lasting impact, for food banks,” Walsh-Rigby says.
Food banks in Alberta have been feeling the impact of the downturn since 2014, and a drastic increase of clients into 2015 and 2016. The need has levelled off this year – but it hasn’t gone down.
After people are laid off, they may have some savings, but those quickly get depleted. They eventually sell their car, or downsize their home. In some cases, they don’t have those options to begin with.
“You get to the point where going to the food bank on a daily basis is a must to survive,” Walsh-Rigby says.
Even after finding a job, it takes a long time to build back up. There are many people working full-time and still seeking help at food banks.
“It’s a darker time for us but the flipside is the incredible generosity and support every community in this province gives to their local food bank.”
How to help
- Make a cash donation in person, online, or by mail, in the form of a cheque, which gives your local food bank the flexibility to purchase what is needed throughout the year.
- For those that wish to donate food, contact your local food bank to see what their needs are. They might be running low on frozen meat or canned vegetables. Many food banks have the facilities to accommodate fresh and frozen donations.
- Consider a regular monthly donation of cash or food, as food banks need support all year.
The Alex Community Food Centre
Opened in 2016, The Alex Community Food Centre (CFC) in Calgary partners with Community Food Centres Canada to provide a welcoming space for people to cook, grow, and share food.
“You might first come in for one of our community meals, and then get involved in a cooking class or gardening program, and gain new skills and make new friends,” says Renée MacKillop, manager for The Alex CFC. “From there people usually start volunteering with us and often graduate into community action training that help people have a voice and be involved in their community.”
MacKillop describes CFCs as a national movement aiming to address food insecurity, hunger, and social isolation across low-income communities across Canada. There are eight CFCs in Canada, and The Alex CFC is the first one in Alberta.
“We like to say good food is just the beginning. Food is a basic human right, but it’s also a powerful way to bring people together and make them feel connected with one another, and with the land where the food comes from. Food gets people in the door so they can be involved as citizens in their communities, and take an active role in their own health.”
How to help
– There are always volunteer opportunities at The Alex CFC, such as working in the kitchen to prepare and serve food, gardening, or assisting in the facilitation of one of the drop-in programs. Check out thealexcfc.ca/volunteer.
– Learn more about poverty and food insecurity in Canada. There’s a lot of information on the cfccanada.ca website.
- Health Canada reported 1 in 12 households across Alberta had experienced moderate to severe food insecurity during 2012
- Food insecurity is higher amongst low-income households, lone parents, people who rent rather than own their home, individuals who receive social assistance, women, single people, and households with young children
- Some health consequences include poor health and higher hospitalization for infants and toddlers, and adults are at higher risk for developing chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease (Alberta Health Services)