Recently our family showed up at Ogden Point to support the Mustard Seed Food Bank in the Great Canadian Food Fight, a food and donation drive that is going on across Canada to support food banks. While we were there I had the opportunity to speak to Brent Palmer, Director, Fran Kitson, Advocacy Coordinator, and Rudi Wallace, Food Intake Coordinator for the Mustard Seed. These three people, along with many others, are key to the functioning of the food bank. Their passion and enthusiasm for their work is incredible and enduring, even after years and years of serving individuals and families in dire circumstances. Most moving was the emotion in Brent Palmer’s voice as he described his grave concern for the future of the food bank and the families it serves, especially with Christmas right around the corner. The Mustard Seed Food Bank is currently in crisis.
Since, the food bank conducts all of its operations and services without any government funding, every dollar and food item is garnered solely by donations from individuals, businesses and not-for-profit agencies. However, due to a struggling economy and even more people being in need of food bank services, donations are down by 20 per cent over the same time period in 2010. The Mustard Seed has a budget of more than $2 million per year, which was reduced by 6 per cent in 2012 in anticipation of reduced donations. As a result of their reduced budget, salaries to its employees have also been cut by 25 per cent. And, while the food bank, gratefully accepts all food donations, as Brent Palmer so aptly illustrates, “you can’t fill a gas tank with a potato”, meaning that the Mustard Seed can’t make it without cash donations to run their building and trucks, pay their employees and carry out their many services. Cash donations also increase their food purchasing ability: one dollar donated is worth two dollars in food to the Mustard Seed due to their wholesale purchasing power. The services provided by the Mustard Seed are essential to the over seven thousand individuals and children the food bank serves every month. Services such as:
- the food bank: of the thousands of people who come in for food each month, 55 per cent are working families that are NOT on government assistance; 15 per cent are homeless
- the Hope Farm Healing Centre in the Cowichan Valley, a working farm for recovering addicts
- the family centre, a skills development program to help families living below the poverty line to learn the skills they need to give their family a better future
- counselling, advocacy and outreach services
- a drop-in centre with coffee shop, clothing bank, haircuts, nursing, chapel and a welcoming community
- weekend meals and outreach program
- early literacy program, which distributes over 300 books to children each month
- canning program, which enables the food bank to utilize fruit that would otherwise go to waste, i.e. blighted fruit and cooking apples
- a Christmas program, which provides approximately 800 Christmas hampers for families in need at a very vulnerable time of year
When I spoke with Fran Kitson she stated that she uses a particular analogy when making speeches about the food bank in the community in order to give her listeners a visual of how many people 7,000 is: “imagine the Save-On Foods Arena full of people – that’s how many individuals the Mustard Seed serves each month”. It’s a compelling example, especially when you consider that 30 per cent of those you visualize sitting in the arena are children.
The food bank is assisting families who have fallen on hard times, the kind of circumstances which could happen to people just like you and I; men and women who have perhaps lost their working spouse, become suddenly unemployed, ill or suffered some other unforeseen financial crisis, single parents who can't make ends meet and seniors who can't survive on their pension income alone. What does our city look like without these services? What does it say about us a society when our food bank is no longer able to provide essential services because they lack the support of the community around them? Where do families turn to for help without the services of the Mustard Seed? What happens to the children who consistently go hungry? These are just a few of the questions I ask myself as I look for ways to support our local food bank, which is so much more than just a food bank; it is a place for people to access support, community, education and advocacy.
If even a thousand people donated five or ten dollars per month (an amount none of us would notice on our monthly credit card bill) we could help the Mustard Seed pull through what is to date their worst crisis in funding ever. Reduced food bank services mean families, children, seniors and people in extreme and stressful circumstances are going to go hungry and have nowhere to turn when they need a hand up the most. For many, the food bank is their last hope and a place they can experience a sense of community and encouragement. And, for the employees and hundreds of volunteers that give of their time and energy to the thousands of people served there each month, we need to show our support for the important work they do in our community. I urge you to consider making either a one-time donation or set up a monthly contribution to the food bank, which you can easily do by visiting their website. Let’s rally together and help the Mustard Seed pull through at a time when they are needed the most.
**Please pass this on to as many people as possible**