MOUNTAIN — Local food banks operated by the House of Lazarus and Community Food Share aren’t only collecting and dispensing non-perishable foods. They also accept and distribute fresh vegetables and even the occasional chocolate bar. There just isn’t a lot of anything to go round.
That observation was among the revelations for some of the ‘Hunger Awareness Champions’ who exclusively ate food bank fare for five days as an awareness-raising measure late last month.
During a Sept. 24 debriefing session to officially close the Sept. 18-22 Challenge, North Grenville Deputy Mayor Barb Tobin said she gained a new perspective on what can be donated to a food bank, as it is a common misconception food banks give out only canned goods.
“Mentally I wasn’t prepared to see fresh food at a food bank,” said Tobin, who had also expressed surprise at receiving some chocolate. “It was an awakening for me. The challenge showed me what it was like to be in someone else’s shoes.”
North Dundas Mayor Eric Duncan also highlighted his allotment of fresh vegetables as a surprise, noting that school food drives’ emphasis on canned goods likely skewed his perception of what’s on offer. He suggested that both food banks do more to encourage local gardeners to donate excess produce during the season.
Still, the mayor acknowledged his week was “hungry. It was an eye-opening experience for sure.”
Duncan explained cooking is not his forte and he normally eats out, as he spends so much time on the road. “I baked a cake and nearly wrecked my oven,” he joked. “I’m so used to grabbing food when I’m out and about and that’s something I took for granted.”
Food bank operators with the House of Lazarus Community Outreach Mission and Community Food Share recently picked the brains of 12 participants in last month’s Hunger Awareness Challenge. The group included some local politicians, like North Dundas Mayor Eric Duncan, Municipality of North Grenville Deputy Mayor Barb Tobin and Municipality of South Dundas Mayor Evonne Delegarde — among others. The trio mentioned above are heard in the included video here.
A total of 12 champions participated in the challenge. In addition to Duncan and Tobin, they included Merrickville-Wolford Mayor David Nash, Linking Hands Coordinator Sandy Casselman, community activist Kim Sheldrick, Winchester District Memorial Hospital CEO Cholly Boland, North Grenville Deputy Mayor Barb Tobin, North Grenville Councillor Frank Onasanya, North Dundas Good Neighbour Mike Barkley, North Dundas Councillor Tony Fraser, North Dundas Mayor Eric Duncan, Kemptville District Hospital Foundation Chair/Westerra Homes owner Robert Noseworthy, South Dundas Mayor Evonne Delegarde and an anonymous individual.
Each champion paid $25 to participate — to cover the cost of the food items they tookf rom the food banks – and were allotted an additional $10 of their own money to spend on food during the week.
South Dundas Mayor Evonne Delegarde said she had planned her meals in advance, left her preferred items to the last days of the experience and managed to keep the $10 allowance unspent.
“I guess the biggest, heartbreaking part is that people do this day after day, week after week, month after month,” said Delegarde. That’s the toughest part to take. If we had to sign up for a month, we would have a whole other perspective again.”
“As part of Hunger Awareness Week, I was challenged to participate in the Hunger Awareness Challenge as a client of our local food bank,” explained Noseworthy. “As a regular donor to the House of Lazarus Food Bank for a few years now, I said an enthusiastic yes because I was personally very interested to see how clients of the food bank are dealt with and what the process was from the receiving end.”
Each champion was offered 23 items from the food bank, as well as cheese, meat, eggs, milk and fresh produce.
“I had enough food for the entire week, however, I witnessed two critical things: Because I was eating so much bread and pasta, I gained a couple of pounds,” noted Noseworthy. “Also because I was eating so many canned goods, my left ankle was swollen up like I had not ever seen before, and I was told it was likely because of the high amount of refined salt in canned goods.
“Also, because I was not thinking as I should have, I managed to spend my $10 inappropriately. I bought a two-litre container of milk, for $4.29, and twice -— early in the week — I bought tea and a muffin from McDonald’s and voila — the remainder of my $10 spent the wrong way.”
“Here is the most challenging thing: Food banks do not have enough food and what I received was fine for one week, but what I received is what a single person receives for one month. Here I am whining about gaining a few pounds and a swollen ankle, but I know at the end of this week I have more food in both my pantry and my fridge, but that is not the reality for the real clients of our food banks … those people have to stretch out their food allocation for much longer than I did and they have to live with what they have — or don’t have — and what they are given. It sincerely opened my eyes … and made me realize how truly fortunate I am and gave me valuable insights into how difficult living with hunger can be.”
“I commented to some of the others participating in this challenge that it’s (living off solely food bank goods) OK for a week, but there are people who do this for years and years … live off an energy-depleting diet,” said Fraser.
He said coming up with creative ideas for meals when you only have the items from the food bank to work with was a challenge unto itself. “I do cook a lot and I had a tough time with that,” noted Fraser, who suggested a system of recipe cards to help food bank clientele. “I stretched a can of lentils into four meals, which is good, but I very quickly ran out of ideas.”
“I enjoyed the challenge,” said Nash. “My wife cheered me on because she didn’t have to cook.”
The thing he missed most during the challenge was treats, such as brownies and ice cream — little things often taken for granted.
Beyond treats like brownies and ice cream, “the only other thing I missed was having a selection of different meats,” said Nash, who only received chicken legs from the food bank.
Variability in what is handed as a sustenance at the food bank, depending on when one visits, was another theme. Delegarde said she received no milk, after Fraser expressed some surprise at the difficulty of making do with only one litre. And rather 23 items, Nash said he was able to choose from only 21.
“I have been in the construction field my whole life, which is made up of a lot of working poor people,” explained Barkley. “I see it every day – the struggles they have – even myself at times have been there; not being able to eat that day or that week.”
Barkley noted he has seen many accidents in his line of work that never should have happened because workers haven’t eaten anything all day.
“I truly feel there is a huge need for people to donate to their local food banks,” he said.
HOL Executive Director Cathy Ashby explained to the champions that 40 per cent of the clients served through the HOL Food Bank are children.
The Hunger Awareness Champions posted regular updates on their experience throughout the week, which can still be found on the House of Lazarus and Community Food Share Facebook pages.
The Hunger Awareness Challenge was part of Food Bank Canada’s Hunger Awareness Week.