Home Blog April 2021 Saskatoon Food Bank – Through Sickness and Health

Saskatoon Food Bank – Through Sickness and Health

Saskatoon Food Bank – Through Sickness and Health
Laurie O’Connor, Executive Director at the Saskatoon Food Bank & Learning Centre has been volunteering at food banks since she was a teenager. She remembers visiting after school and being inspired by the work that was seen. Seeing many people have access to food that they could not afford always made her day, and spending time in the food bank opened Laurie’s eyes to a world of inequalities that she wanted to change. As she grew up, she knew that she wanted to continue being there for those experiencing food insecurity. 
“When I was a teenager, my parents worked at a food bank, so I’ve known this world for a long time. I used to volunteer after school and during university as well. It’s always been a part of my life. I have strong social justice values, so I wanted to continue working in this field. I think that food banks are an amazing place to connect to community, a place to learn about inequities, and to ensure that we have those who live with food insecurity at the table with us, so they can have a voice, and this is something that has remained, even now”.
In 2020, the need was even greater, but the commitment and compassion have remained unwavering, even during a pandemic.
“We had two outbreaks in our food bank where some staff were sick, and others were exposed. This created many stressors for us. There is the fear of getting sick and getting others sick, especially families. You also worry about those using our services and if we would be able to provide for them. Despite all the worries, our staff and volunteers never disappoint. They always rise to the occasion. This is a new experience for all of us and we are learning together how to navigate through it. We are constantly looking for ways to ensure that we are all going above and beyond when it comes to health and safety protocols.”.
The pandemic has been a burden, but it has also opened the eyes of so many to the world of poverty. While many of us are finding we are getting more comfortable being in the virtual world, others are not able to afford an internet connection.
“The pandemic has created a lot of challenges for us. We had to completely shift the way we operate to ensure that staff and clients remain safe. We started offering more home delivery, but also moved some of our programs online. We offer nutrition programming which we shifted to online learning, and we also offer a literacy program. What became increasingly important was that sometimes, those who live in poverty cannot access programs online, so we worked hard to figure that out and ensure that they could access courses online. It’s easy to be so overwhelmed with our own challenges that we forget that there are others who might have it worse than us. This has really reinforced that fact”.
But as food banks have said time and time again, the overwhelming support of Canadians has created pathways for so many.
“We saw amazing support throughout this pandemic, both from the public and from businesses. Suddenly, there was an intense spotlight on the work food banks do in this country. At the beginning, we were worried that there would be no food, and we knew that the need would increase, but within days, we saw our online donation system become overwhelmed. We are so grateful. With the donations, we were able to serve more people quickly, but in a much safer way. We were also able to purchase the most nutritious food to put in our hampers. I have been saying this since the early days of the pandemic, but that support felt like an entire community reaching out and putting their arms around us. Just, Thank You”.
Working at a food bank is not all doom and gloom, it has its moments of joy. Laurie remembers the fun that they used to have and she cannot wait to get back to the celebrations.
“We used to have a lot of celebrations at the food bank, and I remember that when we wanted to celebrate our supporters, those who are always in our corner, we decided to empty our warehouse and we had a little reception, and it was lovely to see an old warehouse space transformed into an area where we can do that. We love to celebrate the wins, big and small. We have a workplace experience program here and folks are with us for 6 months learning about what we do and what community means to us and every time we have a class finished, I am struck by how grateful they are to learn from us and how surprised they are that we are grateful that we have learned from them.  It is a small but valuable thing that always puts a smile on my face”.
Taking calls from grateful clients is also another cause for celebration and is one of the reasons food banks will continue to be there for others.
“We shifted to a small delivery program at the beginning of pandemic. There is a low-income senior’s residence that is just a few blocks away from us and when they found out that we were doing deliveries, the appreciation and joy in the phone calls we got from them were so special. It challenged us to understand how we can get food to those who need it most, when they need it. We want to continue to work hard to be there for those who need us, for example, even after pandemic we will consider how we can continue to offer a delivery service. We want to continue to think of other creative ways to be there for those who need us and now we are ready to tackle the obstacles that come our way”.

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of food distributed by Canadian food banks is fresh (eg. milk, eggs, fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, bread)