A new home for Harvest

Food bank to expand promotion of healthy choices

With 18 per cent more people using Winnipeg Harvest last year than in 2008, plans to rebuild and expand Winnipeg Harvest’s current location at 1085 Winnipeg Ave. are in the works. Jill Brown

Winnipeg Harvest wishes it didn’t have to exist. But with 18 per cent more Manitobans using the food bank last year than in 2008, as reported in Food Banks Canada Hunger Count 2009, the organization is expanding.

The non-profit food bank that distributes food to over 40,000 Manitobans each month is set to rebuild its current building with the help of government funding as well as private sponsors.

According to executive co-ordinator David Northcott, Winnipeg Harvest has outgrown its current 30,000 square foot warehouse location at 1085 Winnipeg Ave. Since the joint federal/provincial funding announcement last May, plans to find additional sponsors for a new two-storey, 52,000 square-foot building have been moving forward with the goal of construction being finished by 2011.

“There’s a lot of homework being done right now. We want to have the best package possible to sharpen the tools we use to meet our commitment of responding to those in need,” Northcott said.

With a price tag of approximately $6 million, the new facility will combine the organization’s headquarters, a larger food distribution centre and additional training rooms. The expansion will give more room to programming, such as staff training, personal income tax courses and courses on nutrition, Northcott added.

Healthy habits often lose out to paying the bills for those living on a low income, according to former Winnipeg Harvest client Kate McKee.

“It feels like a luxury getting fresh fruit and vegetables. You really start to see what you have to go without and what’s really a luxury when you’re on a tight budget,” McKee said.

Three years ago, the 27-year-old single mother was living on Employment Insurance while taking the Library and Information Technology program at Red River College. Some months her budget was so tight she couldn’t afford to feed herself and her 3-year-old daughter, so she turned to Winnipeg Harvest.

“I got raspberries and I was ecstatic,” McKee noted about one of her visits to the soon-to-be-renovated location. “Healthy choices are really what people living on a low income are lacking.”

Looking to express the struggles that McKee and others surviving on low incomes deal with, Winnipeg Harvest partnered with the Social Planning Committee of Winnipeg (SPCW) in 1997 to pioneer a study called the Acceptable Living Level (ALL) report. Since then, it has been successfully updated in 2000, 2003 and will be done again in 2010.

By asking families of a variety of makeups to track their budgets, needs and purchases for everything from cans of soup to child care, candid insight has been gained, according to SPCW senior associate Donald Benham.

“The great thing about [the ALL Report] is that it looks at what it actually costs to live low income. It’s a very realistic look at the cost of being poor in Winnipeg,” Benham said.

Benham, who also serves as the public education co-ordinator for Winnipeg Harvest, believes that while Canada does have a low-income cutoff, this frontline research is crucial to change.

“Our real agenda is to eliminate poverty, so it was just important for us to have a handle on what being poor means.”

Published in Volume 64, Number 20 of The Uniter (February 25, 2010)

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