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Parkdale Food Bank Has It Wrong.

September 1, 2014 |

macccwikiIt’s been a week or so since a food bank worker in Ottawa made waves and headlines with her ill-advised comments of those who donate dry food goods like Kraft macaroni and cheese and other prepared foods.

While I understand and support the need for good food to be a staple in everyone’s diet and that protein and high quality produce like apples and oranges  are optimum – I found Ms Secord’s message not only haughty, but horribly short sighted.

I sit here at an age where like my friends and neighbors, many of us have had elderly family members that are either transitioning to retirement homes or have passed away.  We as families must clean out their apartments or homes.

In those homes are usually cupboards upon cupboards of dry food goods. Locked safely away are endlessly packed layers of “just in case food” that probably pile high enough to fill many bins.  Most of our parents still came from an era where they bought food in bulk when there were specials, and many over-bought things like soup, beans, stew, muffin mixes, cake mixes, salad dressing, crackers, canned tomatoes and pasta by truckload.  They were the children of the depression era and their offspring, so stocking up brought a sense of security.  Not to mention if they were single people, the canned foods were complete convenience when they didn’t feel like cooking a full on meal for just themselves.  They and their demographic were the original hoarders before hoarding was made famous by those dreadful TV shows.  They hoarded food and packed it away, just in case some day, they couldn’t afford to buy some.  This was how many of them were brought up.

I know in our family’s case, the house was that of a hoarder.  There were literally cases of canned tomatoes and spiced pasta sauces, as well as muffin mixes, cookie mixes, jello, pudding and cans of apple, pineapple and tomato juices.   There were canned foods in the kitchen pantry, under and over the sink, in the dining room hutch,  and in the hall coat closet.  In total, I would estimate that the food given away to the food bank would have totaled well into the 2 thousand dollar range.   We kept some of the toilet paper, tissues and opened bottles of shampoo and whatnot and yet there was still enough stuff to fill 19 boxes and moving bins of food and products to donate.  I won’t even get into what we found in the 24 cubic foot chest freezer that obviously had to be thrown out.

One of the starkest examples of this family member’s purchasing prowess was the full bathroom pantry of shampoo, conditioners, paper products and shower soap.  To have brought it all home along with the opened bottles would have supplied us for many, many years.   Over half went to the food bank along with all the dry goods.  We did our best to toss away anything questionably near the best before date.  Maybe a can or two might have been overlooked.  We did our best to sort through it all and I would venture a guess that the food banks across this country get many donations from folks like us, middle aged, who find themselves having to clean out the house of a loved one and end up donating hundreds if not thousands of dollars worth of product.

And so, in there lies the rub… it seems that Ms Secord equates the donation of food into a direct correlation of what it is worth in dollars.   She has then presumed that those dollars are better spent on produce and meat products.  The problem lies that many who gladly donate many hundreds of dollars worth of food would not be in a position to hand over a cheque for a similar amount.   Just because any family could give away hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of food and other things, does not mean we could afford to stroke a cheque to the food bank for a similar amount.  And that is where Ms Secord’s comments do the most damage.   I fear that perfectly good food may just end up being tossed instead of boxed up and driven to a food bank.  If that were to happen, now the food banks not only will be short on dry products, and have to spend money on topping up those, but their purchasing power for spoilable food will be also diminished accordingly.

Thankfully the director of the Ottawa food bank stepped up and said that they gladly accept donations that Ms Secord seemed to dismiss.  Hopefully the Regional foodbanks will take a page out of some of the other charities that rely on donations and alter their messages to better address where some of the donations perhaps come from.

A perfect example is where I recently came across a no kill animal shelter who obviously needs food at all times, but they also put a call out in the local paper for paper towels, cat litter and laundry soap at different times of the year.  It’s a fabulous way to be thankful, while asking for help in a positive way and top up on the incidentals that one wouldn’t normally assume get used in an animal shelter.

I also came across an inner city shelter who put the call out for blankets and towels and bed sheets.   Yes, they obviously also can use cash and donations of things like personal care products, but had this call been sent out when we were cleaning out the family home, there would have also been 5 or 6 boxes of towels and blankets that could have easily gone to better use than someone’s garage sale.   What may have drawn 10 or 20 bucks at a garage sale probably would have provided far better bang for the buck in actual useable product, at a homeless shelter.

I hope the director of the Ottawa Food bank actually takes the bull by the horn this Thanksgiving, takes a page out of the hand book of the above mentioned charities and puts a call out for some “goodies” to provide to families in need.   Halloween is coming and the snack sized bags of chips or cheese snacks are already out on the shelves, ready to be bought and donated!  They could be divvied up and provided along with the staples.  If a little gift of “junk food” can put a smile on someone’s face, especially those who can’t afford to buy it for themselves, and in my books, that certainly IS a donation worth giving.

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Category: Canada

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