2020 was an unprecedented year. Across the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic had a devastating impact, and food insecurity became a major side effect of its decimation. The number of individuals relying on food banks for assistance has nearly doubled worldwide and while those running them have been heroic in adapting to rapidly changing circumstances, help is still needed.
In Canada, as everywhere else, providing food to those in need can be difficult during the best of times. With COVID-19, that task got harder. Before the pandemic, more than 840,000 Canadians sought help from a food bank every month according to Food Banks Canada, the non-profit organization that represents the food bank community across the country. Over the past year, operators throughout Canada have reported sharp increases in usage, and despite government assistance they have been struggling to keep up.
Bernie Regenbogen of UCT’s Jack Kidd Council 755 in Saint John, New Brunswick, is the chair of the UCT in Canada committee that includes Past International Presidents Jerry Giff and Ken Brown, along with members Paul Wentzell, Rod Wilson, and Dave Poets. The committee has been aware for some time of the challenges facing Canadian food banks, and they have been discussing ways UCT might help. What they came up with is a Canada food bank initiative that challenges Canadian councils and members to assist food banks in their communities.
According to Bernie, councils and members can get as involved in this special spring project as they want and are free to determine the actual timing of their events, but efforts need to be concluded by June 20. Some councils got to it quickly and already completed their projects to help ensure that individuals in their communities had a happy Easter. If you haven’t done so, here are some ways you can plan to take action:
- Volunteer your time at your local food bank. People are always needed to sort and package foods.
- Organize food drives in your neighbourhoods. Use your contacts at schools, businesses etc.
- Partner with local grocery stores. As an example, you could ask your local store to prepackage a small grocery order of $10-12, which customers can purchase for $10. They can then take this package and put it in a box, bin or even a food bank truck which might be parked outside.
- Donate cash. If you contribute now, that’s great. How about making an extra donation, holding a dedicated fundraiser, a 50/50 draw, a raffle, or a wishing well?
The committee is also issuing a challenge involving the food bank initiative. “We have many councils of all different sizes,” Bernie explained. “So, the only way to scale a challenge is to base it on the size of the council. We’re proposing that each council try to raise the equivalent of $10 per member. That means a council with 40 members tries to raise $400 while a council with 150 members tries to raise $1,500. We will feature the council that raises the most money pro-rata in the summer issues of the North of the Border News newsletter and The Sample Case and on social media.”
Bernie pointed out that the committee plans to report UCT’s contributions to Food Banks Canada after June 20 and needs each local council to submit a brief report of their efforts to their regional secretary by mid-July – including numbers of members involved and amounts of dollars donated. He also wants members to keep in mind that participation in this project will contribute to local councils’ Medal of Honor requirements.
“COVID-19 has had a tremendous effect on our communities and our local councils as well,” Bernie said. “But however challenging it might be, perhaps we can use this project to find a positive in all this and use it as an opportunity to reinvigorate ourselves and our councils. If we turn our attention to helping others, which as UCT members is what we are used to doing, maybe we can recreate the enthusiasm we had before the pandemic. At the very least we can do what we can to feed the hungry, and that’s a very good thing.”
Feel like getting involved? If you have any questions or concerns about the initiative, feel free to reach out to Bernie at email@example.com or at 506.644.8088.