Food bank to build community

In Whitehorse, hunger is like an iceberg. “People are too proud and don’t disclose their situation,” said Yukon Anti-Poverty…

In Whitehorse, hunger is like an iceberg.

“People are too proud and don’t disclose their situation,” said Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition co-chair Ross Findlater.

“But many hundreds of people are hungry here — I suspect more than 1,000.”

The Yukon’s the only Canadian jurisdiction without a full-service food bank.

But that could change within a year.

On Thursday, the Anti-Poverty Coalition released Whitehorse Food Bank: A Practical Implementation.

Prepared by Skyward Outreach Services, the $17,000 study outlines the need for, and potential costs of a full-service food bank in the city.

Currently, there are seven emergency food providers in Whitehorse, according to the 23-page report.

The list includes the Salvation Army, Maryhouse and the No-Fixed-Address Outreach Van, which dishes out hot meals six nights a week.

The proposed food bank won’t be in competition with the existing food programs, said Findlater.

“Instead it should consolidate the community in terms of need and support.”

The Salvation Army limits its emergency food rations, he said.

“Individuals and families can only use it once every five weeks.”

A full-service food bank wouldn’t impose such limitations, he said.

“The only question we will ask is, ‘Are you hungry?’” said anti-poverty board member Sheila Rose.

Talking with other service providers in Canada, the Anti-Poverty Coalition learned “that food banks that don’t put severe restrictions on food actually provide better service,” she said.

There is a difference between filling bellies and meeting nutritional needs, added anti-poverty board member Charlotte Hrenchuk.

“It’s a basic human right to eat nutritious healthy food, not just canned food and pasta,” she said.

The proposed food bank wants to offer fresh produce and perishables, including dairy products and meat.

It will also recognize individual health needs, said coalition co-chair Julie Menard.

“Health issues like diabetes will be recognized and appropriate food will be put in baskets,” she said.

Eventually, Menard would like to see a food bank that operates more like a community centre with programs for mothers and babies, a communal kitchen, recipes and maybe even a garden.

“It could go far,” she said.

“But we’ll start with a small food bank.”

It will cost roughly $250,000 to launch, according to the report.

Costs will vary depending on whether the space is rented, donated or purchased.

In Yellowknife, the food bank is in the basement of a large sporting goods store.

The business donates the space and pays most of the bills.

All the food bank worries about is electricity costs.

On Friday, Findlater already had some pledges.

“But we have to get a fair chunk from the government to make it viable,” he said.

As well as private sponsors, the food bank will rely on funding from all levels of government, including First Nations governments and federal coffers, he said.

Food banks are Band-Aid solutions, added Findlater.

“But if you’re bleeding you need to stop the flow.”

Food is a basic human right, and government social policy is not meeting this need, he said.

“But we can’t sit and wait for the government to suddenly develop a social conscience because people will die in the waiting period.”

In Whitehorse, naysayers are worried that people may take advantage of the charity.

Findlater has heard the stories of guys pulling up to food banks in Cadillacs.

But he doesn’t buy it.

“There’s no evidence of that, and people working at food banks in Alaska and BC don’t experience that.”

The food bank isn’t going to screen people, like social assistance, to find out how much they make, added Findlater.

That would be costly and it would compromise people’s dignity, he said.

Findlater has seen single moms line up in the rain with small children to get food.

“They’re not faking it.”

The food bank isn’t a charity project, said supporter Father Claude Gosselin.

“It’s a justice project.

“It’s not only about giving a lot to the poor — it’s about creating a new community with them.”

A high percentage of the volunteers working at food banks across Canada are also users, said Findlater.

Food banks can allow the disenfranchised to become engaged and feel welcome, he said.

“People can come with their dignity and leave with their dignity intact,” added Hrenchuk.

“They can feel they can contribute to their community as well as receive from it.”