Changes better serve clients at Nanaimo food bank

A community garden helps humanize a difficult situation for Nanaimo citizens

Jesse Alexander transforms the back lot at Loaves and Fishes Community Food Bank on Farquhar Street into a community garden

Jesse Alexander transforms the back lot at Loaves and Fishes Community Food Bank on Farquhar Street into a community garden

Every week, someone new will shuffle through the door, eyes downcast, with shoulders hunched in embarrassment.

“They can’t believe it’s come to this,” said Peter Sinclair, executive director of Loaves and Fishes Community Food Bank.

One of the eight locations for food pickup in the community will see new clients – people who are recently unemployed, laid off or facing an unexpected health issue.

But Sinclair hopes with changes to food bank distribution, administration and client services that one day he won’t have a job to go to at the food bank.

“We shouldn’t be here,” Sinclair said. “We’re here because there’s a problem in the community.”

About six months ago, the board, which oversees operation of the non-profit society, began implementing its strategic plan.

Looking at the big picture is often a challenge while meeting the day-to-day needs of clients, Sinclair said.

“We want to keep our eye on where we want to be two to three years from now,” Sinclair said. “The most tangible one is the community garden out back.”

The food bank secured a grant to hire a summer student, Jesse Alexander, to build garden boxes at the rear of the Farquhar location.

“We showed him a big, concrete space and said, ‘transform it’,” Sinclair said.

“In three weeks, there’s plants.”

Alexander, a geography student at Vancouver Island University with a construction background, secured donations of lumber, soil and plants for the project.

“The community’s been pretty helpful,” he said.

The produce grown from the garden might not make a dent in the food budget, but adding greenspace and a place for clients to sit and talk is invaluable at treating people as humanely as possible.

“It’s not just food it produces,” Sinclair said.

The food bank also changed distribution to two weeks instead of one, allowing the organization to buy in bigger volume, like four-litre jugs of milk instead of two.

“There’s significant cost savings there, while providing more milk for our clients,” Sinclair said.

It also reduces congestion at the community distribution locations, which are up to eight, including a Saturday option for people who work during the week.

A new software system allows the organization to see how many people are in a household and provide food accordingly.

Previously, a family received the same amount of food whether there was one child or several.

Partnering with other non-profit community organizations, like FoodShare and Nanaimo Women’s Resource Centre, helps connect food with people who need it.

And a significant number of people in Nanaimo need it – in 2012 alone, 5,300 people used the food bank.

“You’re looking at one-in-20 people coming to the food bank,” Sinclair said.

Young Professionals of Nanaimo donated bags of lettuce from its community garden and more donations are needed to help the food bank over the summer.

“Our warehouse is as empty as its ever been,” Sinclair said. “We definitely need the donations and support of the community.”

To donate, or for more information, please visit www.nanaimoloavesand fishes.org.

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