Put Down that Can of Food: Eight Better Ways to Donate!

Holidays just aren’t holidays without food and friends. And, every December, charities wisely ask us not to forget the poor – often by appealing for donations of non-perishable food items or cash for Christmas baskets and free public meals. But food “charity” can do more harm than good.

A measure of emergency food relief will always be needed to meet immediate crisis needs. Yet, as sociologist Janet Poppendieck reveals in her devastating book “Sweet Charity? Emergency Food and the End of Entitlement,” when stopgap programs like food banks and soup kitchens become our default responses to hunger and malnutrition, we unintentionally reinforce the root causes of poverty and reward an inefficient food system. Poverty grows and so does the cost of feeding the poor, even while the quality of food reaching the poor goes down.

Poppendieck calls for better public policy. In British Columbia, public health authorities, local governments like the City of Vancouver, and foundations are stepping up to the plate. Their most important policy change so far is to support community-based initiatives that are cultivating local, sustainable, and equitable food systems – “from seed to compost” – that aim to end hunger among the poor while yielding food security for us all. (To learn more about food systems and food security, check out Planted’s webpage of resources.)

Here is where your charitable donations and volunteer effort come in. A system is only as powerful as the energy put into it. Funding from governments and grantmakers is not nearly enough to sustain growth of the community-based initiatives in metro Vancouver. And no amount of money can achieve the transformation that happens in us and the poor – and therefore in our neighbourhoods and society – when all of us regardless of social status share our selves in growing, preparing, and eating food together.

So this holiday season consider these eight ideas for joining the movement to end hunger. We give a few examples of each to get you started.

1. Support volunteer community gardens that grow produce for charities and/or offer garden plots and education for low-income people: Richmond Sharing Farm, The Edible Garden Project, A Rocha Community Garden Network.

2. Underwrite community shared agriculture (CSA) farms that supply a weekly box of fresh produce to vulnerable people and charities: FarmersOn57th, Fresh Roots Urban Farm, Red Clover Farm, Kingfisher Farm.

3. Donate money or equipment to community kitchens, which satisfy hunger for food and friendship while teaching nutrition and culinary skills: CityReach’s EduKitchen, or find one near you through Fresh Choice Kitchens, a program of the Greater Vancouver Food Bank.

4. Give to one of Planted’s partners, which facilitate community meals and other programs that blur the distinction between hosts and guests, food providers and food consumers, building on the stengths of everyone.

5. Host a Fair Share Dinner for your friends and family: enjoy some delicious food while raising awareness and funds for food security in your community.

6. Cater your Christmas party with a social enterprise that employs marginalized people: Banqueting Table, H.A.V.E. Catering, JustCatering, Potluck Catering

7. Support more nutritious food and community jobs while overhauling the food system of one of Canada’s poorest neighbourhoods: Downtown Eastside Kitchen Tables.

8. Capitalize on the power of neighbourhood food networks to leverage the assets of your community: Burnaby Food First, Grandview Woodland Food Connection, Renfrew-Collingwood Food Security Institute, Richmond Food Security Society, Village Vancouver, Westside Food Security Collaborative.

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