Put an end to food banks

Winnipeg Harvest continues battle to reduce poverty

  • Hundreds of Winnipeg Harvest volunteers provide 380,000 hours of work per year, the equivalent of 192 full-time jobs. – Dylan Hewlett

One of the issues that people who work in the poverty field face is how to reduce poverty in this country.

In fact, many organizations like Winnipeg Harvest would like to work their way out of a job completely - that is, to either close their doors or turn their facility into a community centre for the people that they serve.

To that end, Winnipeg Harvest has issued a 2012 Report Card on its mission to Goal 2020, a goal that aims to cut food bank usage in half by 2020.

The Report Card is divided into six different categories in order to measure the success of their goals.

In terms of decreasing the need for food bank use, Winnipeg Harvest is finally going in the right direction, but as they themselves say, not quickly enough.

In 2011, the number of those needing to use food banks decreased by four per cent, but only after increases of 18 per cent in 2009 and 21 per cent in 2010.

If they continue to decrease use of food banks by four per cent each year until 2020, there will be a 32 per cent reduction, not the 50 per cent reduction that Winnipeg Harvest is trying to achieve.

Winnipeg Harvest has given itself a grade of C on decreasing the need for food banks to date. Unfortunately, I would disagree and would suggest that it would be between C- and D.

There is no question that, while Winnipeg Harvest is not of any particular religious affiliation, it recognizes the human spirit - volunteers.

Hundreds of volunteers provide 380,000 hours of work per year, the equivalent of 192 full-time jobs.

To quote from an aboriginal teaching: “Those who are fed will help.”

In this area, Winnipeg Harvest gives itself a grade of A, which I agree with. I have been volunteering there for many years and they do foster a spirit of independence and personal growth.

In the area of training volunteers for jobs, Winnipeg Harvest aims to develop and put into practice the accumulated knowledge of its clients and volunteers.

Not only have many volunteers gone on to paid employment, but Winnipeg Harvest has expanded its training role in their new building - for example, safe food handling, fork lift certification, warehouse worker, call centre operator, computer skills, urban gardening and custodian apprenticeship.

Winnipeg Harvest gives itself a grade of B and I agree, and they will continue to provide opportunities for volunteers through job and life skill training.

Low income neighbourhoods, especially in the North End, do not have access to mainstream financial institutions or larger and cheaper grocery stores

In regards to teaching students about hunger and poverty awareness, Winnipeg Harvest engages students in every grade and post-secondary level to learn about hunger and poverty awareness. Last year, Winnipeg Harvest visited 51 schools while 3,436 students from 105 schools toured and volunteered at Winnipeg Harvest.

Staff and volunteers from Winnipeg Harvest also do outreach by going out to schools and other social agencies to talk about its role and the issues surrounding hunger and poverty.

Winnipeg Harvest grades itself a B+, which I agree with. In my role as a volunteer, I have gone out to schools, social agencies and unions to promote Winnipeg Harvest.

In regards to the ability of Winnipeg Harvest clients to feed themselves, the 2012 Acceptable Living Level (ALL) Report indicates that for a single parent with two children, welfare provides only half the income needed for an acceptable standard of living.

Even a minimum wage, full-time job provides only three quarters of the income needed.

Low income neighbourhoods, especially in the North End, do not have access to mainstream financial institutions or larger and cheaper grocery stores. This forces a reliance on Pay Day lenders and convenience stores.

Winnipeg Harvest cannot grade itself in this area as it has not yet demonstrated success in meeting the goal of clients feeding themselves.

Winnipeg Harvest asks the question: How will political leaders respond to the Goal 2020? Will they try to engage with and support Winnipeg Harvest and everyone else in the community in reducing the need for food banks?

Winnipeg Harvest challenges all political leaders to take action during the coming year and grade their own performance to achieve the Goal 2020.

Nick Ternette is a community and political activist, freelance writer, broadcaster and long-time volunteer at Winnipeg Harvest.

Published in Volume 67, Number 1 of The Uniter (September 5, 2012)

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