Tree is currently visiting the maple side of the Forest where our daughter-in-law works for a Food Bank. Bishop Alan Wilson blogged about his visit to the Food Bank in Milton Keynes back in July. So I was interested to visit the Mississauga Food Bank a few days ago to see how it worked.
Mississauga is a city of around 700,000 residents immediately to the West of Toronto and part of the same connurbation. Like all cities it has people who are struggling to make ends meet, those on welfare and others who are in low-paid employment. There is no social housing, so rent takes up a large part of the income of those on the lowest incomes. So many struggle to eke out the money to feed themselves and their families.
Across the city there are a number of food banks, often run by churches and other voluntary and community groups. These supply boxes of food that really make a difference to those who receive them. Most of the food is donated, either by companies who do it as part of their community and charitable involvement, or by individuals. This weekend is the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, and across the city people donate food items -tinned produce, packets of pasta and other non-perishables – as they do their shopping for the family celebrations. This Fall Drive is a major event in the calendar of the food banks, and people can be incredibly generous in their giving.
Many of the locally based food banks in church halls and community centres are served by more centralised depot facilities, such as the Mississauga Food Bank and Daily Bread. These have the space to store large quantities of food, and even, since last year, to store cool or frozen produce. This means that food can be distributed when and where needed.
Around 12,000 people (almost 2% of the population) at some time make use of the food banks. Food is supplied to cover needs for around 7-10 days of the month (around twice the national average for Canadian food banks), so it is not possible to rely entirely on the food banks for individual needs. Nevertheless, it makes a significant difference between getting by and not getting by. One of the most satisfying experiences for those who work or volunteer at the banks is to hear the stories of those who now no longer need their services.
As Bishop Alan noted, there is a gap in the UK where similar food banks could make a significant difference to the poorest in our own society, and groups are beginning to react to this need. I heard from a member of our UK family that a food bank has recently been set up in Norwich, and plans are going ahead in other places. I hope that churches and Christians will be at the forefront of this – after all, what we do to the least…