Learning together

Food Banks across the Columbia Basin meet in Kimberley this week

“4,175 individuals were provided food from food banks in the Columbia Basin in March 2012. To put this into context, food banks across the Columbia Basin provided food to a population equivalent to 50 per cent the size of Kimberley and surrounding area. This happens every month in the Columbia Basin.”

This is the opening statement in a study commissioned by the Golden Food Bank to look at food banks in the Columbia Basin Trust. Funded by the Columbia Basin Trust, the study took an in-depth look at food banks in this area, what their unique challenges are, how they could work together to support each other.

This week at the Kimberley Conference Centre, 11 of 19 food banks —including Kimberley and Cranbrook —  in the Basin met to talk about the study and to learn from each other.

The conference was organized by the Golden Food Bank, but held in Kimberley as a central point in the valley in order to facilitate as many people being able to attend as possible.

Barb Davies from the Golden Food Bank says a lot can be learned from the study.

“We learned that there is a huge amount of diversity in terms of how food banks in this area operate. But we do face common challenges. It seemed a good idea to bring food banks together to see how we can work together.”

The conference, also funded by CBT, is the first gathering of Basin food banks. While many volunteers from area food banks do attend the annual Food Bank BC conference, they may find they don’t have an awful lot in common with large food banks in areas like Surrey, where there may be 200 people lined up for assistance in the morning.

“We are really excited to have Basin food banks together,” Davies said. “This is unique and will focus on what we learned from the study. We will have a regional lens today.”

Although the conference is regional, the executive director of Food Banks BC, Laura Lansink, attended.

“I’m here to learn and encourage, but also to sit back and admire what these people are doing,” Lansink said. “I never fail to be amazed at what all our volunteers are doing.”

Lansink says the Food Banks of the Columbia Basin study confirms what is happening throughout the province, and there is reason for optimism as well as concern over hunger.

“What are we doing about hunger? What is the future of food banks? This report highlights some things that are disturbing, shocking, but it is also encouraging to see how hard these people are working to make a difference.

“Across B.C. we serve 97,000 people, 29 per cent of them are children. I am very interested to see this year’s stats from Food Bank Canada, to see if we are holding steady.”

Davies says numbers in the Basin are holding steady after reaching a peak in 2008 at the height of the recession. Unfortunately, they haven’t fallen from that peak, remaining consistently high.

“B.C. on average has the worst poverty rate, the second worst child poverty rate,” Linsink said. “One in seven children live below the poverty line. Think about that. Three or four kids in each classroom. In a small school with ten classes, that’s 30 or 40 children who live under the poverty line. When you compare lunches with the haves and the have-nots, it’s very painful. We are not doing very well in B.C.”

Linsink says she is encouraged by newer initiatives such as community gardens and community kitchens, which indicate people are still working on innovative ways to assist the hungry.