Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society


Food First: The Community Connection

Friday, February 15, 2013 - 4:15pm

On January 27th, staff representatives from the Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society participated in the City of Vancouver's public forum on the proposed Vancouver Food Strategy Report.

The new Vancouver Food Strategy proves that policy and governance are catching up with the food systems needs of the community. The Food Strategy outlines the many ways the City of Vancouver plans to address food security in our city; it includes plans to highlight purchasing from local food producers and farmers' and community markets and establish more community gardens and urban farms and plant more fruit-bearing trees. The Strategy also outlines ways to drastically reduce food waste in landfills through composting and other sustainable food waste disposal methods. Finally, it emphasizes the importance of supporting and enhancing community-based food programs like community kitchens and gardens, and looks to possibly establish a "food business incubator," which would support small-scale food entrepreneurs and could have the potential to create jobs and strengthen the local economy.

This Food Strategy was openly supported by everyone in attendance at the public forum and was later  unanimously approved by City Council; a notable win and dramatic step forward towards a food secure future in our city.

As we continue our work on our own strategic planning for the Greater Vancouver Food Bank's future and its legacy, it is uplifting to see the similarities and parallels of these key themes reflected in the work currently underway within our own organization. Emergency food is an important part of our mission and will be a component of how we help care for those in need in our community for some time to come, however we recognize that emergency food as a standalone is not the answer.

As a result, we are enthusiastically shifting, with a renewed focus on education, collaboration and skill enhancement as a way of helping people move forward in their lives. We are fostering growth through community kitchens and capacity-building programs, sourcing fresh and healthy locally-produced food for distribution, adopting a zero-waste policy for food and food waste, and collaborating with local health agencies and food producers to make sure we're offering the best nutritional and social value possible.

As an example, GVFBS recently partnered with the Vancouver School Food Network(VSFN) t hrough our  Fresh Choice Kitchens  program.   VSFN is a network of school, community, and health agencies and programs that are working towards healthier and sustainable school food systems in Vancouver.  VSFN helps teachers and other school staff start, maintain, and teach in school gardens and about local food.

Fresh Choice Kitchens utilized funding received from  Hain Celestial to  put together 6 bins of kitchen equipment for VSFN, who will arrange the loan and distribution of these bins to schools in the Vancouver School District. Each bin provides a classroom with kitchen equipment for 6 cooking stations.  Hundreds of teachers from the VSB have taken advantage of the knowledge and resources of Network organizations through the network’s professional development workshops. This school year, the VSFN is offering monthly after-school workshops for teachers who want to engage their students in food production, processing, and eating to explore topics of food, health, and the environment.

We are thrilled about our  partnership with VSFN and while it is just one example of how the Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society can collaborate in a meaningful way, we recognize how critical it is that we grow these types of partnerships and actively contribute to strengthening our community as a whole.

We're excited that many of our core beliefs are reflected in the approved Vancouver Food Strategy and what that holds for the future of our community. We too, are in the process of taking new steps and in doing so, are committed to ensuring they are collaborative ones.

*Interested in participating in a community kitchen program? Fresh Choice Kitchens is offering a variety of upcoming workshops - register today !

When life gives you bananas...

Friday, February 1, 2013 - 8:00am

What would you do with 15 tons of bananas? Why, you make banana bread of course...6500 loaves of it!

Last week, the Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society (GVFBS) received a generous donation of nearly 40,000 pounds of bananas that had been passed on by a retailer due to their colouring. Even though the GVFBS doesn't normally distribute banana's (due to their short shelf-life and fragility), we decided that we couldn't let them go to waste, so we gladly accepted them and immediately got to work sharing them with our community.

We distributed them to our 15 depots and community agencies, however still had a significant amount left over, so we put our heads together and after some collective brainstorming, approached Potluck Café about the possibility of turning them into banana bread for us.The Potluck Café is a social enterprise located on the Downtown Eastside that provides jobs for people living with barriers to employment and cooks healthy foods for sale in its restaurant and catering business.

Potluck Café enthusiastically rose to the challenge, so GVFBS handed over the remaining bananas along with the necessary ingredients and watched as they transformed them into 6500 loaves of banana bread. Making the banana bread resulted in employment for 7 people from the DTES community, so with nothing more than a little effort and creativity, our bananas evolved into a great example of how collaboration can result in greater community impact - preparing and distributing high quality, nutritious food, supporting jobs for local DTES community staff, and strengthening community economic development; not to mention salvaging thousands of pounds of fresh produce that would have otherwise been introduced to the landfill.

The loaves of banana bread will come back to the GVFBS warehouse and be re-distributed to our depots and agencies for people and families receiving food support.

We are so thankful for these kinds of collaborations - in which someone generously donates to our cause, and in turn, we are able to not only support our neighbours at the depots, but also collaborate with local community organizations to support their mandate while fulfilling ours. It is just one example of the partnerships and initiatives we plan to continue as the City of Vancouver advances their work of being the greenest city by 2020(#ZeroWaste) and moves closer to the ban on food waste and food scrap disposal in the garbage by 2015.

According to a 2010 study by the Greg Morris Centre in Guelph, ON, Canadians waste approximately 40% of all the food produced in Canada every year. That's a waste of about $27 billion dollars worth of food per year. The report goes on to say that, 'reducing food waste would also help ease supply pressures that cause prices to rise; and that for most households, cutting the amount of food wasted by half would be more than enough to offset the coming year's price gains.

Besides the produce we purchase, much of the fresh food that is donated to the GVFBS is food that doesn't meet exact retail standards - that means the food is perfectly fine to eat, but might not look perfect. For example, the bananas we received were already ripe, while bananas sold in store are usually a little more green. We also sometimes get oranges that are slightly undersized or aren't evenly coloured - again, still good to eat and use, but not aesthetically pleasing enough to be sold in stores. We lovingly refer to these fruits and vegetables as our uglies, and knowing that while they might have a bruise or two on the outside, they are still packed full of nutrition on the inside and we are proud to give them a home here. By salvaging this produce, we save them from the landfill and more importantly, provide healthy, nutritious produce to the community we help care for.

Doing our part towards preventing food waste isn't new for GVFBS. In fact, our Community Angel Food Runners program saves food prepared in restaurants, hotels, schools, and cafeterias from being wasted as well; 725,000 pounds of food to be exact that would otherwise end up in the landfill, which instead provides 1.25 millions meals for those in need.

By collaborating with our neighbours and like-minded agencies in addition to running our own programs, we're making great strides towards ending food waste in our community. We are excited to show our support for the City of Vancouver's Food Strategy Report and can't wait to see how far we can get in doing our part before 2015.

Capacity Building in Our Community

Thursday, January 17, 2013 - 5:30pm

Since the Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society's beginnings, food security for people living in Metro Vancouver has become an important part of its mission. So what does food security mean, exactly?

For researchers, urban planners, and policy makers, food security is a catch-all term for three main aspects: food availability, food access, and food use. Food availability means having adequate supplies of food to support a population - be it a household, a city, a province, or a country - in any and all circumstances, including economic or environmental crisis. Food access is defined as having the resources to obtain safe and nutritious food to support a healthy and active lifestyle. And finally, food use is having knowledge and understanding of basic nutrition and personal care to be healthy, active, and self-sufficient.

Even though until now we have been traditionally known for providing emergency food, we realize that planning for long-term food security means highlighting and developing our other programs. That means looking for ways for food security principals to be incorporated into our daily lives.

We want our neighbours to have access to healthy foods, so we buy over 100,000 pounds per month of fresh local produce like vegetables, fruit, dairy, and eggs. Not only does this support our local farmers and food producers, it also makes sure that people in need of support from the Food Bank can enjoy a healthy and balanced diet.

We're also learning that opportunities for nutrition education are just as important as sourcing food for healthy diets. That's why we started our Downtown Eastside Community Kitchens (DECK), Fresh Choice Kitchens, and Kids' Picks programs. DECK and Fresh Choice Kitchens teach participants how to prepare and cook nutritious meals, and Kids' Picks helps school-age children learn nutrition basics by providing healthy snacks. The Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society also supports other food and nutrition education organizations; for example, La Tableé des Chefs, a Montréal-based organization that helps at-risk youth build food preparation and cooking skills, is hosted at the GVFBS headquarters every week.

In many ways, nutrition education and food use skills should be the most pressing issue in addressing food security. Having access to fresh, raw food isn't helpful to an individual's food security unless that individual knows how to use it, or has a solid understanding of what dietary factors contribute to a healthy and active lifestyle. There's truth to the adage: "If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for life." Here at the GVFBS, we want to not only give our neighbours food, we want to help our neighbours learn to prepare and cook food self-sufficiently. And hopefully, one day, Metro Vancouver will achieve total food security.

Next week, we will look at the long tradition of food preparation and cooking that has kept people around the world healthy in spite of economic and environmental conditions.

Stay tuned!


Monday, December 24, 2012 - 7:00am

Twenty-four fully grown blue whales weigh eight million pounds.

That's how much food the Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society distributes through emergency food services, programs, and support to community organizations every year.

In 1981, Canada entered a recession. In 1982, the Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society was founded in response to a sudden influx of people - approximately 200 people per week - in need of emergency food supplies.

Fast forward to today's date and here we are, reflecting as the year draws to an end thirty years later, with the GVFBS now serving 27,000 people per week - a population equivalent to the City of Langley. Needless to say, a tipping point has been reached and one thing is certain; it is time for change.

While the comparison in numbers over three decades as a standalone may seem alarming, it is certainly not all doom and gloom. During those thirty years, the Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society has made leaps and bounds in helping to address hunger in our neighbourhoods; providing emergency food and related assistance to individuals and families that truly need help. At the same time, the GVFBS also recognizes that emergency food as a standalone is not a long-term solution.

In the last fifteen years, the food bank has also made other significant progress by providing food supports elsewhere in the community. Fresh Choice Kitchens(formerly the Vancouver Community Kitchen Project) is focused on promoting and creating educational opportunities for people to cook and eat healthy and nutritious meals together in community kitchens. The Downtown Eastside Community Kitchens(DECK) project provides residents of single-room occupancy hotels in the Downtown Eastside with opportunities to use community kitchens as a capacity-building and educational space while also building social connections. Finally, the Community Angel Food Runners program recovers prepared and perishable food from local restaurants, hotels, cafeterias, and schools for delivery through meal service agencies, saving over 725,000 pounds of food from being wasted every year - food that in turn provides 1.25 million nutritious meals for people instead.

By the way, 725,000 pounds is roughly the same weight as 183 minivans.

As we reflect on the Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society's thirty year history, the impact and influence that food banks have in our daily lives, we recognize that twenty-four blue whales' weight worth of emergency food provisions every year are not enough. Emergency food, while essential, doesn't address the steadily increasing rate of demand for food support or the root causes of hunger in our community, nor does it adequately support long-term food security for individuals and families in need.

Through our work, we've grown to understand that we need to do more to help bring solutions forward to end poverty, enhance education and capacity-building, and support physical and mental well-being for our neighbours. It's with these goals in mind that we are moving forward with new resolve, in collaboration with our partners in health, housing, and education to explore strategies for integrated, long-term solutions.

We're excited about 2013 and what the future holds for the Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society; we're ready to take a bold new step and play a leading role in pioneering a new vision with the health and nutrition of our community and our society in mind.

We look forward to the year ahead as we embrace change, joining forces with our friends and our neighbours in making a difference together. We thank you for your continued support through this transition and wish everyone a healthy and happy holiday.

Community Food Security

Sunday, May 6, 2012 - 7:00am

We all need to eat. We all realize that food nourishes our bodies. And many of us realize that our community food systems, as they presently stand, are not as secure as they were 50 years ago. But things are changing…and in many ways, they are changing back to how we used to relate to food.

Welcome to a new chapter of the Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society. It is with deep appreciation and excited anticipation that I welcome you to our new website and introduce you to our new blog, Food for Thought. There is a very dynamic shift taking place around food. It is called Community Food Security. This shift is positive, filled with inspiring people and organizations that are collaborating and working hard at community engagement and capacity building.

This shift is looking to ensure that not only will communities have access to wholesome, affordable foods but they will also share the skills amongst themselves that are necessary to grow, harvest, cook, preserve and store these foods.

You don’t have to look very far to see community gardens and orchards growing by leaps and bounds, local neighbourhood houses transforming into community kitchens and community centers playing host to food skills programs and food security meetings.

Farmers’ markets, school food gardens, farm to school(cafeteria) programs and new food coalitions/networks are all valued contributors to this new wave of the food movement. As someone who has been a big advocate for community kitchens and all related initiatives, I am very encouraged about what is happening at the grassroots level with community and food.

Yet the burning question is...what role do food banks play in this movement? Where do food banks fit in? While I have ideas and opinions, as someone who has worked for the Food Bank for the past 14 years, I also know it is not for food banks to answer alone. For us at the Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society, we are experiencing 2012 as a year of transition, of exploration and endless possibilities.

Food is a perfect connector. It is time to engage and contribute in meaningful change on a community level. Community Food Security is where it’s at – working together to make things happen, working towards one common goal. Good, healthy, accessible food for all.

It’s Food for Thought. And we look forward to the conversation.

Contributed by: Diane Collis, Manager, Fresh Choice Kitchens