My friend Megan and I went to an open air German Christmas Market on Friday. Other than the food, we didn’t find much to hold our interest there, especially after we discovered some of the tree decorations were made in China. Just across the street, the CBC Vancouver Broadcast Centre was having their annual open house and food bank day. “Peter Mansbridge might be there,” I said to Megan. And just in case it wasn’t the national news anchor that turned her crank, I quickly added, “And Ian Handsomemanthing.” It’s Hanomansing actually, but you can see from the picture why the local reporter has the nickname. We decided to check it out.
I have to admit I would never have planned to go to the event. Watching people drop off cans of food just didn’t strike me as a great way to spend an afternoon, even though I fully support the work of the food bank. I am also aware how great the need is. The 2010 HungerCount, just released by the Canadian Association of Food Banks, reports that in March of this year, 867,948 people received groceries from a food bank, up nine percent since 2009, and the highest level of food bank use on record. In BC, 94,359 people needed to use food bank services in that one month, a five percent increase over last year. A third of those are children; BC has the worst child poverty rate in the country.
The first BC food bank was set up in greater Vancouver in 1982 in response to the hunger crisis during the 1981 economic recession. Back then the Greater Vancouver Food Bank was feeding about 200 people a week, now they feed up to 25,000 a week in the lower mainland. They have fifteen depots throughout the region and work from a 33,000 square foot warehouse. They serve the working poor, seniors, and recently arrived immigrants. They also support more than one hundred other agencies that have food programs in the city including seniors centres, AIDS groups, drop in centres, soup kitchens, youth and women’s shelters, community kitchens and gardens, mental health agencies, children’s programs, the local fruit tree project and plant a row campaign. Through their Food Runners program, they pick up prepared and perishable food daily from hotels and restaurants and deliver it directly to meal providers.
Food banks were supposed to be an emergency measure, but here we are all these years later still relying on them. Clearly the need is great enough to justify the system. Food banks will continue to be a necessary reality unless we really begin to address the underlying issues of homelessness and poverty. “The need for emergency food assistance exists in the nation’s poorest regions, and in our most prosperous cities. It exists among single individuals, and among single and dual-parent families. Hunger affects people on welfare and those with jobs. Whether because of punishingly low welfare rates, meager wages, insufficient pension income, lack of coverage by Employment Insurance, or barriers to workforce participation, food insecurity is experienced in every province and territory.” (HungerCount 2007). The 2010 HungerCount makes a number of recommendations for reducing hunger and food bank use.
We were among 5,000 people who showed up at the CBC event on Friday. The young woman who served us at the JJ Bean Café on the outdoor plaza said it hadn’t been this busy since the Olympics. We toured the fabulous new studios, getting a behind the scenes look at the workings and the personalities. There were opportunities all day long to get your picture taken with the stars. George Stroumboulopoulos, Shane Foxman, Jian Ghomeshi, Gloria Macarenko, Sheryl MacKay, Bill Richardson, they were all there. On CBC radio that morning, they referred to the picture-taking tent as the petting zoo and warned us not to touch the talent. Tony Parsons was nice enough to give me a hand up to his news desk though. And Ian Hanomansing clearly had no trouble rubbing shoulders.
All of the local and regional radio shows broadcast special programs to inspire us to give. We listened to Mark Forsythe’s BC Almanac show. He had a great line-up of musical entertainment and special guests, including the very funny and effervescent weather woman, Claire Martin. She and Peter Mansbridge had a very witty exchange, then Peter took questions from the audience. He was very good on his feet, except when it came to Margaret Thatcher apparently. When asked to name the most uncomfortable interview he had ever conducted, he said it was with the former British prime minister. “She was all over me,” he admitted. “She didn’t believe I’d read her book, even though I had.” He walked by me on the way out and I was able to tell him that I never miss his Thursday night political panel on the National. After we had our fill of touring and hobnobbing, we browsed in the CBC boutique. To our surprise, we spent a couple hours at the open house and had an absolute blast. Definitely more fun than the Christmas market, and no admission charge. Megan and I already have the event on our calendars for next year.
This is the 24th year that CBC British Columbia has held their Food Bank Day. In addition to accepting cheques and food donations all day long, they also had a phone bank set up. They raised $409,449. You can still donate to the food bank of your choice in BC.