I remember volunteering at a local food bank some years ago, working at the donation counter and coming face to face with people who could only put food on the table by coming in once a week. They had to show identification. They had to take what we gave them (with some exceptions, but only on those rare occasions when there was surplus of something).
It was a deeply humbling experience. For the first time in my safe and secure life, I was interacting regularly with those who are in desperate need. For many, their shame and humiliation was palpable, and I became ever more thankful for my good fortune – the circumstance into which I was born, my stable, successful, and supportive family that I could rely upon during tough times. More people than we likely realize are not so privileged.
Food banks were originally designed to be a stop-gap measure for those in need – more like a band aid on a systemic injury to help stop the bleeding until the system could be changed to create better food equity and access. But that’s not what happened.
Instead, food banks became the answer instead of the stepping stone they were originally intended to be. More food banks were needed because the system never changed, never discovered and implemented a more permanent, sustainable solution to poverty and food inequity. Except for some relatively small grass-roots efforts to address the issues, things have remained the same or have gotten worse with even more reliance on this band aid in need of replacing. For the most part, our society, and particularly governments at all levels, have not nearly committed to addressing the problems that affect the least privileged in our communities.
Don’t get me wrong: I fully support food banks as a current necessity, and it is vital to support them. To that end, BUFCO has spent significant internal resources these last few years to growing fresh produce that goes directly to Black Food Toronto, a not-for-profit that delivers food boxes to at-need people in the Black community. Two BUFCO clients had us install significant gardens for the sole purpose of having 100% of their harvests going to food banks.
In a perfect world, food banks will become a thing of the past, and never again will anyone have to experience the humility, shame, and desperation of entering such a facility for the first time, or for the hundredth.
Here are some food bank alternatives you may wish to consider supporting:
Community Fridges Toronto (CFTO) is a Toronto-based volunteer-driven community initiative with a network of fridges and pantries that provide the opportunity for people to both give or take food and staples with the goal of combating food insecurity. Necessities like fresh produce, whole meals, pantry goods, and personal care items can be accessed by anyone, at any time of day, no questions asked, without enrolling in a program, and free from the stigma associated with food insecurity.
Feed it Forward is an initiative kicked off by local Toronto chef Jagger Gordon that makes available food from restaurants and grocery stores that would otherwise go to compost heaps or landfill. They provide pay-what-you-can Grocery Store, Cafe, and Bakery, and also participate in the aforementioned community fridges throughout the city.
Unfortunately, their program is app-based, making it difficult for those without cell phones to access the services. Thankfully, Toronto has one of the world’s greatest library systems where users can access the internet to explore this great program.
Consider supporting a food box delivery service, such as Black Food Toronto (BFT) and Uplift Kitchen. BFT is an initiative under umbrella of Afri-Can Food Basket, a community based non-profit organization that has been at the forefront of championing Food Justice and Food Sovereignty for Toronto’s African, Caribbean, Black (ACB) community since 1995. Uplift Kitchen is a food security initiative created to serve Black, Indigenous, and other racialized communities in Toronto and surrounding areas. Both organizations offer food box delivery services directly to the doors of those in need.
All these organizations need financial and volunteer support. So if you are looking for an alternative to a food bank donation, please do take a few minutes to look into these ideas. If you still decide to support your local food bank – still a beautiful and helpful thing to do – remember that money donations go a lot farther than food items do. Food banks know exactly what is most needed in their neighbourhoods, and so can purchase those specific items in appropriate amounts. They can also purchase items at much better prices than we consumers pay.
Someday, if we all work towards this common goal, food insecurity will be only a sad chapter in our history books. Equal access to healthy, food is a right, not a privilege. No one should have go hungry in a prosperous city like Toronto.