June 18, 2013
In 1998, when I took over The Stop, a small, under-resourced food bank in a low-income neighbourhood in Toronto, it was like hundreds of other makeshift, church-basement charities popping up across the country. Lineups wound out the door. When you got to the front, you were handed a hamper of largely unhealthy processed food – corporate castoffs – intended to last a few days. It was a place where people kept their eyes on the floor and checked their dignity at the door.
With many of the same people returning regularly – plus new recipients daily – it didn’t take long to realise the food bank was doing little to stem the tide of need. And the fatty, sugary and salt–laden food was a health crisis on a plate. Even with the handouts, people still went hungry, took on debt to pay for food, and were forced to make impossible choices between paying their rent and feeding their kids.
Charitable food banks, it turns out, are good for the corporate food donors who save on dumping fees and cultivate social capital; well-meaning volunteers who feel good about helping the “needy”; politicians who point to them as evidence the problem is being dealt with – everyone, except the people they were set up to help.