YEAR after year we go to the public appealing for support to feed an increasing number of hungry people. After my 10 years of serving food banks, I am nearing the end of my rope.

I have celebrated countless food drives and thanked many inspirational event co-ordinators that have helped mitigate hunger for a short period of time. Every act of selflessness and kindness leaves me speechless.

Canadians respond dutifully when the “call” is made during crises. Empathy is our collective culture. You should not be surprised that your neighbours, in this community and across our region, give with bottomless generosity.

Then, why does stress consume me? It is because the shelves are too often bare and in reality, food is only one piece of the solution. I worry with good cause. After 40 years, food banks just get bigger. The issues around poverty continue to spiral out of control.

I am preparing for the arrival of another season of “giving thanks.” My own team at the RFDA is bracing for a very challenging year. The political climate is not necessarily in our favour.

Despite the many hurdles, we have found ways of distributing more truckloads of donated food this year. We recently shipped raw vegetables and processed foods to 12 remote Northern Ontario First Nations. We also shared your gifts locally, and reclaimed a shocking amount Canadian surplus food. We struggled to assist our members, but also managed to give a little to unsupported groups. Many charities serving the hungry have no voice, no benefactor, and no means of securing funding. We try to squeeze them under our shrinking umbrella.

Have we lost our way? We acknowledge that food banks are not the definitive solution. A donated hamper buys time, fills tummies, and gives young minds fuel to grow. A family residing in a large urban centre, or another eking out an existence on the shores of Hudson Bay, have the same inherent right to access nutritious food.

I struggle knowing that food alone does not give me safe passage around the iceberg. The root causes lie below the surface, in the waters of health promoters, diabetes workers, counsellors, clinicians, educators, and economists. These are the people who carry my hopes and aspirations for a vibrant future. They navigate to safety for the rest of us. It is time for action.

I will invite politicians, visionary philanthropists, responsible corporations, health care, and social agencies to form a collaborative team. It is neither “us” nor “them.” It is only all of us. The next few months will determine which charities will survive the holiday season, and which will yield or succumb to cutbacks, claw-backs, and downsizing. This is not the time to retreat.

Multi-disciplinary leaders and doers must gather with the brightest minds and their faithful to chart a new path forward. There is a life after food banks; one that is much richer, that can elevate souls, and nurture the imagination of children. There can be a world that respects seniors, and tends to the lonely and suffering. This is a year of change.

Until then, we will stay the course.

Our membership food bank network will be transformed. The RFDA will partner with additional remote and rural communities next month, and more the month after. Volunteers will continue to stand proudly at every retailer asking for your support. Your donations will be shared with every food bank and feeding program, because it is the right thing to do. No one should go hungry in our midst.

We cannot surrender until the paradigm shifts — to a place where healthy families are the norm, and we care for all elders, and schools offer a universal breakfast program, food literacy is better understood, and the lessons learned in kindergarten last a lifetime. It is so much more than food.

Today we will feed the hungry, and plan for tomorrow. I will cling to my rope, with your help.

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Volker Kromm is the executive director for the Regional Food Distribution Association of Northwestern Ontario.

(Originally published Aug. 31, 2019)

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