People and programs 11/15/2013

“I had to beg the people to take the squash. I had to personally guarantee that it was good.” That’s how Good Food Bank coordinator Wendy Quarrington describes her first year at The Table Community Food Centre in Perth. 

Most days, The Table faced two challenges: having to accept well-intentioned donations of poor-quality food, and trying to find ways to provide adequate information about the healthy food they did have to encourage community members to try it. 

Quickly, Quarrington and her team started trying to think of what it would take to make the food bank a healthier place. Changes to the floorplan, for sure, and to the types of information included in volunteer training. More nutritional information communicated in less intimidating ways. Food samples. And, most importantly, more healthy food. They began developing a list of Core and Non-Core Foods as a guide, prioritizing judgement-free language. The list was developed in consultation with several health professionals — the way the team saw it, the list could inform the organization’s food choices and philosophy, and serve as a starting point for conversations both within and outside the CFC. 

The Table now highlights Core Foods in several ways. Quarrington works with Coordinator Rosie Kerr and the Seniors' Cooking Group to feature sample plates of community meals at the food bank’s reception desk to give community members the chance to ask questions about particular ingredients, recipes and dishes, and encourage users of the food bank to go upstairs for a meal. The Table’s Good Food Bank operates on a shop format: community members are given a certain number of points per visit, which they can spend on the items they need. (Core Foods carry a lower point count, which means community members who choose Core Foods can take home a larger quantity of food than if they choose Non-Core Foods.) The new plan, which will be fully in place by 2014, also involves reorganizing the space so Core Foods like fresh produce and whole grains are the first thing people when they see when they enter. The volunteers who help community members with their shop help provide with everything from how to read labels to describing how unfamiliar foods taste to sharing recipe ideas and storage tips. 

Quarrington understands that the education has to occur in the community as well. “When Kraft Dinner goes on sale at the supermarket, we get a parade of people coming in with boxes of KD. An important part of this initiative is working to educate everyone about the full cost of poor food choices on a community. People who live in poverty use the healthcare system more often. Healthy whole foods make a huge a difference to people’s health.” 

The Table has found an important supporter in Matt Barnabe, the owner of a local independent grocery store. Barnabe has committed to highlighting the items The Table needs by placing their “A Favourite of The Table’s Good Food Bank” flags beside the items in the store. He hopes this will help The Table receive healthier donations, and also help to get the wider community thinking about healthy food. 

“As of January, 70% of what we offer will be Core Foods and 30% will be Non-Core," says Quarrington. "Our board has committed to providing funding to ensure we can meet those targets. It’s important because it means participants will know what they'll get, instead of arriving and having to make do with what's there.” 

The Table is conscious not only of what kind of food they offer, but also where it comes from. Wherever possible, she tries to source purchased food from local producers. She buys beef from a local farmer, and squash, green beans, cucumbers from other producers. “We make a conscious effort to buy local whenever possible. This way we can value our farmers’ contributions to our community,” says Quarrington. “I don't want to live in a small rural Ontario town that doesn't have any farmers.” 

It’s by advocating that holistic view of the food system — one that considers producers and consumers of all incomes — that The Table believes can make real change in a community. And that change is already showing: healthy food donations now account for 75% of total food donations, compared with 45% - 50% in 2012.



Read a powerful piece on the Eatocracy blog about trying to cook for a family of four from a food bank hamper.