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‘Temporary’ Vancouver Food Bank hits 30 years of service

Cameron MacLeod, 24 hours

'Temporary' 30-year old charitable food bank now permanent supplement to meagre government services. (CARMINE MARINELLI/ 24 HOURS)

'Temporary' 30-year old charitable food bank now permanent supplement to meagre government services. (CARMINE MARINELLI/ 24 HOURS)

It was set up 30 years ago as a temporary measure to feed the city’s poorest. Yet the Greater Vancouver Food Bank is still feeding 27,000 mouths a week.

Apparently, the food bank has now become a permanent fixture in the city.

That’s because, according to experts, the province is happy to rely almost solely on charities to supplement the meagre diets of those on welfare. And this as demand climbs another 10% this holiday season, pushing the food bank to a breaking point

“Our system is structurally set up to be dependent on food banks and charities to meet peoples’ basic food needs,” said Seth Klein, B.C. Director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. “People are usually pretty disturbed when they find this out because they think there’s a bottom rung in our society that is adequate to provide the basics, but people can’t meet basic nutritional needs on welfare.”

The food bank was originally created by church groups, non-profit organizations and concerned citizens as a temporary measure to alleviate poverty and malnutrition during the recession in the early ‘80s.

“Addressing society’s most difficult challenges is not the sole responsibility of government,” stated Moira Stilwell, Minister of Social Development, when asked what the province has done the past 30 years since the food bank was established to help welfare recipients who couldn’t afford healthy diets.

Food costs are soaring but welfare rates have remained stagnant since 2007. If inflation has gone up 9-10% it means the real value of a welfare cheque has decreased by 9-10% in the past 5 years, said Klein, citing the BC Healthy Living Alliance.

“Being on social assistance is a lot of work — walking around to services and standing in lineups,” explained Klein. “They’re supposed to be looking for work instead of working just to meet their basic needs. And you simply can’t meet dietary needs on welfare … in Vancouver.”

The Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society states it “provides emergency food and related assistance to help address the immediate needs of the community, however the GVFBS also recognizes that emergency food, as a standalone, is not a long-term solution.”

“The problem,” says Bill Hopwood of Raise the Rates, “is that food banks treat the symptom but not the cause of poverty and malnutrition. We should be asking ‘What would be necessary to get rid of food banks in 5 years?’ We should be pushing to have a conversation about addressing the root causes of poverty rather than focusing on temporary, or not so temporary in this case, stop-gap measures.”


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