“I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.” — Maya Angelou
Many of us donate to our local food bank on our own or as part of a workplace drive at Christmastime, Thanksgiving and other major holidays.
When you aren’t feeling the gnaw of hunger yourself, it’s sometimes hard to remember amid the stresses and pressures of your own life that other people are, and that the need doesn’t go away once the holidays are over.
Giving is purely voluntary, of course, but when you think about the many ways people find themselves having to do without, you begin to realize there are also many ways to give, and it doesn’t have to be expensive.
“Picture someone just getting out of jail,” says Susan Halley, chair of the board at Emmaus House, a food bank run by five downtown churches in St. John’s, where volunteers keep the hampers flowing five days a week. “The place where they once lived is gone and they have nothing. … They will say, ‘Can you give me some food that I don’t have to heat up?’ Because they don’t have any pots and pans to put the food in.”
Like most food banks, Emmaus House sees people of all ages and circumstances: single people, families, refugees, the working poor and those on income support.
Emmaus House needs chairs for its waiting room, and new flooring. Other facilities might need a cast-off fridge or freezer that’s still in good repair, sturdy shelving, or a coffee urn or kettle that volunteers can use for a well-earned mug-up.
“My biggest frustration is that they can’t earn enough to live their own lives,” said Halley, a longtime volunteer who sees demand growing with the weakened provincial economy.
“A lot of people think people are coming to the food bank and it’s a sham. I’ve been here 15 years and there’s only been a handful of people who I thought might be doing that. The working poor need it quite as much as anyone else in the system. It’s getting bad, no doubt.”
Pam Frampton: Food banks know the hard times all too well
In addition to donating regular staples like Kraft Dinner, beans, instant coffee, tea bags, soup, sugar/sweeteners, tinned milk, Cheez Whiz (permitted in school lunches), here are 10 ways you can help:
- Give your time — even an hour a week packing hampers, stocking shelves or picking up donations would make a difference.
- Ask your local food bank what it needs to operate more smoothly. Emmaus House needs chairs for its waiting room, and new flooring. Other facilities might need a cast-off fridge or freezer that’s still in good repair, sturdy shelving, or a coffee urn or kettle that volunteers can use for a well-earned mug-up.
- Pots, pans, dishes, can openers. If you have some of those items that still have life in them, offer them to your food bank. They could make the difference between someone having to eat out of a pull-tab can or not.
- Keep an empty container at your workplace or your house all year long, and put in what you can when you can. Once it’s filled, donate the goods to the food bank of your choice, or the Community Food Sharing Association.
- Personal care products — toothpaste, toilet paper, paper towels, Band-Aids, feminine hygiene items, diapers, tissues, cotton swabs, shaving cream, soap, shampoo.
- A gift card for a local grocery store saves you the time and effort of picking up items to donate and can be used by a food bank volunteer to stretch its purchasing power by buying things on special.
- Just add water — Pancake Day is coming, so if you’d like to donate pancake mix and syrup, consider that not everyone has the oil and eggs required for certain pancake mixes. Always donate mixes — for pancakes, cakes, muffins, bread — that require water only.
- Pet food — Yes, there are people with very little who still need and benefit greatly from the unconditional love of a pet.
- Ziploc bags, food storage containers and reusable grocery bags. Many people can’t afford these simple things that most of us take for granted.
- Treats — puddings, granola bars, chocolate, cookies, nuts, Jello, fruit cocktail. As Susan Halley says, “No matter who you are, you need that in your life from time to time.”
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