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Food insecurity a growing concern

·6 min read

Samaritan House Ministries executive director Barbara McNish says food insecurity and problems in the supply chain are growing challenges in society, and it will take continued support from the Brandon community to ensure all families are fed.

McNish said before the COVID-19 pandemic, Samaritan House provided about 24,000 hampers a year to clients. In November alone, it provided 2,600 hampers to those experiencing food insecurity.

If these numbers are maintained, she said, the non-profit expects to begin providing more than 31,000 hampers each year in Brandon.

“People are trying to do whatever they need to do to get the food … But food is the last thing I’m going to buy if I want a place to live,” McNish said.

Samaritan House saw 92 new people in November, and they’re concerned these numbers will continue to rise. The question now is how they can sustain their crucial support of those who are food insecure.

In the past, Samaritan House, the second-largest food bank in Manitoba, was open to clients four hours a day to provide access to hampers. Those hours have been extended to six hours a day to prevent lineups and meet capacity demands for food hampers.

They anticipate providing more than 100 hampers a day in the coming weeks.

Food insecurity can be thought of financially or geographically, said Samaritan House food bank co-ordinator Marcia Hamm Wiebe.

“If you have a pulse, you need to eat,” she said. “Generally, we expect that people have lots to eat, but the reality is if you don’t have money in our culture, our society, in our community, then you don’t eat. So you have to find food somewhere else if you don’t have money.”

For many in the community, they have bills to pay such as rent and utilities before they can decide what food to buy. This leads them to visit places like food banks, soup kitchens and other agencies for support.

Hamm Wiebe said since rents are so high in Brandon, most people working minimum-wage jobs have to work more than one job to pay for rent, let alone afford food.

She added the experience of food insecurity has been amplified by the flooding in British Columbia, which decimated the country’s supply chain.

“I think about my own personal family. Sometimes when my kids were working minimum wage and they paid the rent but didn’t have the food, they called on mom and dad. Now, if you didn’t have a mom and dad here or an aunt or a grandma, what’s your support system? I think that plays into it as well.”

For those in need of help with food security, Hamm Wiebe said, she wants them to visit the Samaritan House food bank.

“I want people to come to the food bank because I have food I want to give away,” Hamm Wiebe said. “I need people to show up for that food, especially the perishable food. I’m really thankful people do come to food banks to help with their financial situation because we have lots of food to give away that doesn’t last very long because it’s a perishable food. That’s a bit more of trend now than it was two years ago.”

She noted the provincial food bank, Manitoba Harvest, provides 700 hampers each month to Samaritan House.

The remaining food for those experiencing food insecurity has been donated by Brandon and the surrounding community, McNish said. She is grateful for their continued support through food and cash donations making a major impact in helping keep Samaritan House operational and ensuring they have food that can be sent out.

“Our mission is labouring together to help those in need — we’re just here to help and to make sure people are not hungry, or they are not out in the cold,” McNish said.

Samaritan House will be hosting a virtual version of the CP Holiday Train on Dec. 18. The event serves as a fundraiser for Samaritan House and includes a concert that will be livestreamed through the organization’s Facebook page.

During the event, Samaritan House will host a food donation drop-off drive by at 820 Pacific Ave. starting at 5 p.m.

This Saturday, Dec. 11, it will be hosting Carols for Christmas from 6 to 8 p.m. featuring the Christian of the Gospel Faith Youth Camp out of Carberry. They will be hosting an hour of singing in the parking lot and other activities centred on raising awareness for Samaritan House.

She noted social distancing and masks will be required during the concert.

Brandon Bear Clan Incorporated co-chair Liz Spence said food insecurity in Brandon takes on many forms and has only been heightened during the COVID-19 global health crisis.

“We need everything — it’s constant,” Spence said. “We do get donations, but we give them out and it’s back to square one.”

Access to food is a basic need and there is a lack of organizations — outside of Samaritan House, Helping Hands, Salvation Army and Brandon Bear Clan — helping meet this basic need in the Wheat City felt by those who experience food insecurity.

On Thursday and Friday, Brandon Bear Clan provides meals during nightly patrols to those in need in the downtown area. In the last few months, Spence said, they have been handing out around 1,000 meals a month.

On Thursday alone, they handed out more than 90 sandwich bags.

Three Brandon Bear Clan volunteers also provide soup and sandwiches on Sundays to those in need.

“I probably make 70 sandwiches and my other partners probably make 30 to 50 hot soup or chili. We also provide a hot beverage or water and all the snacks that come with it — a juice box, fruit and that kind of stuff,” Spence said.

Food security is a challenging conversation in Brandon, she added, because there is not always an awareness that some people struggle to secure food or do not have access to a hot meal unless it is provided by community resources or services.

Without these supports, people would go hungry, Spence said.

She remains thankful for the continued support from the community in ensuring Bear Clan can feed the hungry. These donations of food, money or other essential resources are making an active difference in the community.

She noted right now Bear Clan is in dire need of blankets, boots, socks, winter jackets, ski pants, long johns, mitts, gloves, toques and other essential items to survive the winter.

Bear Clan has a small pantry with food that includes non-perishable items that are easy to make. She added a shift in thinking is needed because people living in precarity do not always have access to items like can openers or salt and pepper.

“We have to think outside the box,” Spence said. “We were making sure people had food and making sure they had clean clothes and care kits with shampoo, body wash, toothbrush and toothpaste.”


» Twitter: @The_ChelseaKemp

Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun

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