Chris Hatch is the newly appointed CEO of Food Banks Canada, the national organization dedicated to promoting access to high quality food for all across Canada. He spoke to us about the operations of Food Banks Canada and the issue of food insecurity in Canada on April 12, 2018.
Every March, Food Banks Canada collects data from as many food banks as possible across Canada to generate statistics on food bank use. The sources include food bank chains, independently operated food banks, soup kitchens, in-school food programs and more. The HungerCount Report is used by governments in setting policies intended to target the 850,000 or more Canadians who rely on food banks. One third of food bank users are children and one sixth of them are people who are employed but are not able to make ends meet due to high housing costs, low wages and/or poor access to full time employment or employment benefits. Food bank use is considered to be a barometer for poverty in Canada and unfortunately no progress has been seen in these statistics for many years. As a national association, Food Banks Canada assists its members in three ways: with funding, with food and with advocacy.
Food Bank Funding
About one third of the food banks are fully operated by volunteers who need assistance to source both funds and food. Walmart Canada is a major contributer of funds to Food Banks Canada as are Loblaw Companies Limited, Farm Credit Canada and Mondelez International. Food Bank Canada administers donations ranging from eight million to nine million dollars, determining where and how funds should be used and tracking their use to provide accountability. Very little of the funding is comes from government sources. One of the key objectives is to build capacity in the distribution system.
Food Bank Logistics
As a participant in the National Food Sharing System, Food Banks Canada finds, secures and moves 24 million pounds of food each year, mostly by rail. CN and CP railways have each donated $250,000 worth of rail capacity for the transportation of food supplies; since rail capacity is a finite resource, Food Banks Canada is often in bidding competition with other food-related businesses for service. More remote areas are serviced by ice road trucking, barge deliveries or air drops, sometimes as infrequently as once per year. For Inuit communities that can only be reached by ice roads or planes, global warming is having a significant impact on their access to food because the seasonal availability of the ice roads is less and air drops are much more expensive.
Food Security Advocacy
Food Banks Canada has one full-time staff member dedicated to lobbying the federal government on matters pertaining to food insecurity. Other staff focus on government relations and research on food security and poverty. The federal government is expected to bring new poverty legislation forward which will include strict measures for accountability in progress on poverty reduction targets.
Food Waste Reduction and Food Management Innovations
Thirty-one billion pounds of still edible food is wasted in Canada annually, most of it the result of grocery stores discarding slightly damaged produce or food that is close to its Best Before date. In some countries, legislation has been instituted to force an end to the waste. Food Banks Canada and other food-related charities, such as Second Harvest, are working together to try to minimize the waste.
Access to donations of fresh food is challenging for food banks so some of them have developed hydroponic and aquaponic facilities that enable them to supply fresh vegetables, such as lettuce, and fresh fish, such as tilapia to their users. Food banks in British Columbia have set up bee hives so they can provide honey and make their own peanut butter, a protein source that is always in demand.
As part of the ongoing dedication to accountability, food charities are implementing artificial intelligence to determine the optimal number and locations of food banks and wireless tracking of food donations by bar code to ensure accountability for getting donations into the hands of food bank users.
Some food banks offer job training for users to help them develop the skills needed for employment opportunities that would allow them to get out of poverty.
How You Can Help
Food, funds, and willing hands are always needed. Food Banks Canada welcomes both donations and volunteers.