United for food security
No one should have to decide between food and rent, and yet, a recent study shows that one in seven Canadians lived in a household facing a food shortage. With rising costs of food, gas, and accommodations in conjunction with supply chain issues, and COVID-related unemployment, many British Columbians turned to local community organizations to meet their nutritional needs. In fact, for almost 12% of households in rural BC, getting healthy, culturally appropriate food has been a great challenge. For Indigenous communities, and those 50 km away from a major urban centre, that number is even higher.
“Living in a rural, remote and Indigenous community can mean getting healthy, nutritious food is a long drive, boat ride or flight away. This, combined with gaps in systems of care, are leaving many British Columbians falling through the cracks when it comes to getting fresh fruits and vegetables, and dietary and culturally appropriate foods important to the overall health of Indigenous communities,” says Kim Winchell, Senior Director, Strategy & Operations, Community Impact & Investment, United Way British Columbia – working with communities in BC’s Interior, Lower Mainland and Central & Northern Vancouver Island (United Way BC).
Ensuring British Columbians in need have access to nourishing and appropriate food is a priority for United Way British Columbia. That’s why United Way BC’s Regional Community Food Hubs are #HERE to help.
United Way Regional Community Food Hubs
As an innovative approach to food security, multiple partners in Food Hubs co-create solutions that address specific regional needs in small towns, rural, remote, and Indigenous communities, as well as city neighbourhoods with increasing food insecurities. This model not only increases accessibility of food for families, but also provides food literacy programming and wellness activities, and other wrap-around services such as mental health support, employment services, childcare, and more – for fuller plates and hearts.
Building a healthier, more equitable and sustainable food system
In the North Okanagan region, the Land to Table Network is a steward for United Way’s Regional Community Food Hub, addressing challenges and opportunities within the emergency food sector and increasing organizational capacity and impact.
“The North Okanagan Land to Table Network supports the vision to build a thriving, healthy, just, and resilient regional food system. As a ‘hub steward’, Land to Table is working in collaboration with project partners to build organizational capacity in order to support the connections and delivery of more local food, grown by our local farmers. United Way’s Regional Community Food Hubs initiative is enabling us to increase access to fresh, nutritious, local food to those in our communities who need it most, through an approach that also supports the local food economy,” says Liz Blakeway, Land to Table Network Director.
Over the past year, in collaboration with United Way BC, Land to Table has fulfilled this role by working collaboratively with the Okanagan Indian Band, The Good Food Box and the White Valley Resource Centre. Together, the Food Hub and its partners have delivered over 3,200 hampers and meals filled with local eggs, meat, fish, fruits, and vegetables to seniors, young families, and those impacted by the wildfires and floods of 2021. In all program delivery, there is a goal to include local food from small to medium-scale farmers growing in the North Okanagan.
Connecting communities through food security
Regional Food Hubs also offer volunteer and engagement opportunities for community members in their own neighbourhoods, which strengthens vital connections locally. “I always look forward to the food box delivery day because it’s a chance of not only helping our neighbours but also meeting them in person to get to know them better,” explains Susan Empey, who has participated in The Good Food Box initiative, a monthly bulk produce buying program that supplies monthly produce boxes, since 2012 as a volunteer and a client. “I didn’t use to buy fresh produce before because it was too expensive, but now I can, and my diet has become so much healthier,” says Susan.
For fuller plates and hearts
Food security is much more than ensuring everyone has food on the table. It’s about having access to affordable food that is nourishing and culturally appropriate, served with dignity and care. It’s also about respecting people’s needs and making long lasting connections.
Mom of four kids, Kara-Lee Zeolkowski, is a teacher at the Whitevalley Community Resource Centre. She was instrumental in developing a Youth Cooking Program, a free after-school cooking course for youth in grades 7-8. The classes start with a 30-minute mindfulness session, where the kids can relax and get ready to cook a different meal every time, which they eat together at the end. Most of the ingredients are sourced from local farmers and butchers and are taken home by the kids so they can cook the same meal for their families.
“We are so grateful for this unique opportunity of teaching these kids a life skill, while offering them a healthy family meal at the same time,” Kara says. “We really appreciate the support from United Way, so we can find new solutions to address the urgent matter of food insecurity in our region.”
Food security province-wide
Creating food security in local communities is an evolving process, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the highest level of inflation seen in 30 years. More families and individuals are finding themselves in need. Almost 3 in 5 Canadians (57%) say that it is currently difficult to feed their household. As per the Angus Reid Institute, that’s up from 36% in 2019.
Thanks to our donors, 2.5 million meals were provided to families and individuals in need last year by our 16 Regional Community Food Hubs and 7 Food Recovery Organizations.
Every community member deserves to have food on their table year-round to support their wellness and ability to thrive. United Way Community Food Hubs are here to help fill the gaps and strengthen vital connections in community.
Let’s continue to be here for our neighbours in need. Donate today. For tomorrow.