News Views: Free food

North American study recommends food banks move to low-barrier model.

The Friends in Need Food Bank requires some form of government photo identification for any adult member of a family to receive a food hamper, as well as secondary identification, proof of address in Maple Ridge or Pitt Meadows, in addition to proof of income.

The Friends in Need Food Bank requires some form of government photo identification for any adult member of a family to receive a food hamper, as well as secondary identification, proof of address in Maple Ridge or Pitt Meadows, in addition to proof of income.

Two advocates for the poor are questioning the Food Banks B.C. policy of denying hampers to those who have no fixed address, arguing it lacks compassion.

The Friends in Need Food Bank in Maple Ridge follows that policy, requiring some form of government photo identification for any adult member of a family, as well as secondary identification, proof of address in Maple Ridge or Pitt Meadows, in addition to proof of income.

Service may be denied without proof of identity, according to the food bank’s website.

Kellie Tennant, a family mediator and long-term donor to food banks, thinks the policy is discriminatory, that is seems “to be kicking the most vulnerable people when they’re down.”

She said other food banks provide food to those who are living on the street and questions the policy because it’s based on a few instances of littering or people selling the contents of their food hampers.

She wants to see more consultation with other food banks, and suggests that if people have enough to eat, there will be less trouble.

In 2016, the Greater Vancouver Food Bank conducted a study on social innovation in Canadian and U.S. food banks. It includes feedback from food banks from Kamloops to Saskatchewan, Toronto and Ottawa, New York, Arizona and California.

“Justice-oriented approaches, focused on enabling a full range of participation in community (including access to food), with dignity and without oppression, are increasingly central. Similarly, concerns around public health inequities and diet-related illness more often include a structural lens that includes looking at the many social determinants of health and food insecurity,” the 62-page report states.

Food security is a key theme. The report also suggests maintaining or creating low-barrier intake systems.

“Many food banks do not request a means test and require minimal member information for intake to create a more welcoming and dignified first experience at the food bank …

“Generally, food banks interviewed were not concerned about low-barrier intake systems contributing to abuse of emergency food services. Rather, food banks are creating new ways to collect information from members in a dignified way that supports data collection and measurement (e.g. private appointments and meeting rooms).”

Giving out hampers using a “no-barrier” model, to those without proof of address, is rare in B.C.

One reason is to ensure donations go to local residents. Another reason is that street people may not have the facilities for cooking the food.

However, food banks are encouraged to give out any non-perishable food, or food that doesn’t require cooking, to the homeless,

Friends in Need executive-director Mary Robson said the food bank is now working with seven outreach agencies, including one for seniors, that connect with people who are on the street. Those agencies can help people find homes or get help and also distribute food packs.

But if food banks across North America are making changes to a more dignified approach for dispersing hampers, should those in the Lower Mainland not consider the same, for the reasons cited in the study?

“Continuing to develop inroads to and ways to respectfully engage with food bank organizations that may not share these perspectives is a critical consideration for progressing this change,” according to the study.

– Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News