It was a rainy evening on May 14th, 2014, around 6:30 when people started arriving at Fairlawn Avenue United Church in Toronto for the food bank experience. Little did they know when they signed up to come to this, that they would have to stand in line outside the gym because the food bank didn't open until 6:45. While they waited in line they were asked to register to use the food bank with some questions similar to the ones that those that use food banks get asked. Then they became a part of the scenario. Some of us from Freedom 90 acted out different scenarios that happen when waiting to use the food bank. When the doors finally opened everyone was handed a profile of a food bank client and asked to sit down. All the participants were asked to write a one week grocery list for the family profile on the back of it and then they got to go shopping at the food bank and check off the items on their list that they could get from the food bank and go back to their seats. We heard many comments like "I was shocked to see the kind of food that is at the food bank" and "you take a chance on being able to get the kind of food that you want".
After everyone had returned to their seats they were presented with some information about why many of those that are food insecure cannot access the food bank and reasons why so many of our neighbours cannot purchase healthy food for themselves.
We then discussed the many ways we can all do something about this unsustainable system that was first set up as an emergency stop gap and is now a necessity for so many. We can learn more about the issues that are underlying the need for food banks and add our voices to those speaking out about things such as inadequate wages, low social assistance rates, and not enough affordable housing. Political advocacy such as letters, phone calls and visits to our local politicians and asking questions of all candidates for the upcoming elections were some of the steps forward that were discussed.
At the end of the evening everyone left with many positive things to say about the experience. "It's a bigger problem than I thought," "The fear and shame that the Food Bank experience showed me was surprising," "The extent of food insecurity - the number of people in need but not accessing the food bank," and "I did not realize the process had become so institutionalized and organized" were just a few comments that were made.
This was a remarkable experience for all of us and I think we all learned a lot. I am looking forward to the next time and also for the day that our society no longer needs food banks and everyone can afford to adequately feed and house themselves and their families.