For the first time in my 24-years of living, I journeyed to Winnipeg, Manitoba.
People who had made the trip before had given me their not-so favourable opinions.
“It’s a flat, windy, chilly city.” “It’s full of homeless people.”
“It’s COLD.” “The only worthwhile place in Winnipeg is ‘The Forks’.”
In my first few days as a visitor, I was beginning to fear that their not-so favourable conclusions were true, but then I found Winnipeg Harvest.
Winnipeg Harvest (WH) “is a non-profit, community-based organization committed to providing food to people who struggle to feed themselves and their families.” They opened their doors in 1985 and have since been striving to not only feed the hungry, but are also working towards finding long-term solutions to hunger and poverty in Manitoba.
Meghan Pesclovitch (Volunteer Services Coordinator) took me on a tour of the fantastic WH space and shared some scary statistics, before putting me to “work”.
2. Last year 51% of food bank recipients were children.
3. 1/3 of families experiencing hunger are dual wage-earner families, ie: the working poor
4. In 2010, Winnipeg Harvest moved almost 11,000,000 lbs. of food
I had never experienced the fear of going hungry (thankfully), and had definitely never been exposed to such staggering numbers. I was ready to offer my helping hands more than ever, and was wishing that I had the ability to help on a much larger scale.
While volunteering with Winnipeg Harvest, I ended up with two main roles. Firstly, I assisted Dave, a long-time volunteer, in taking phone calls from clients who were in need of emergency food. There were about 6 other people in the room answering calls for the same reason, and the phones never stopped ringing. Because I was not trained, I mostly sat in silence and listened while Dave made the appropriate responses. I was extremely impressed with the efficiency of their tracking system to ensure that no one was taking advantage of the services provided by Winnipeg Harvest and their 320+ partner agencies.
One phone call really struck me. A single mom, who was a first time caller, was looking to make an appointment with her local agency because she was almost out of food for herself and her two children. You could hear the panic, stress and absolute fear in her voice. After Dave booked an appointment for her (while also offering some encouraging words), we hung up the phone and I asked him how he felt about his role at Winnipeg Harvest. He made it very clear that although he feels great about being able to calm clients’ fears and help them feed their families, he ultimately wishes that he didn’t have to be there at all (meaning that no one would be going hungry in Manitoba).
I also had the chance to help a team of volunteers sort food donations and put them in their appropriate boxes (I wish I still had my pictures, the efficiency of this place was truly incredible). It was here that I saw the magnitude of food that was being donated, sorted, packed and distributed on a daily basis. It seemed that the WH fleet of trucks never stopped coming to pick up more pallets of food.
While taking on this task, I casually spoke with the other volunteers to learn why they chose to give their time to this particular organization. I was surprised to find out that many of them were clients of Winnipeg Harvest and just wanted to give back. I later learned that more than 50% of volunteers at WH are people who use a food bank.
Amazing, I thought.
My time at Winnipeg Harvest was short, but really eye-opening and impressive. I left the building with an overwhelming sense of gratefulness for my own circumstances, and appreciation for the hardworking group at WH. Every single staff member and volunteer displayed so much passion and were 100% committed to fighting this issue.
Fighting hunger and feeding hope.
Their goal at Winnipeg Harvest is to “to reduce by half the need for food banks in our province by 2020.”
To learn more about Winnipeg Harvest, please visit their website HERE. I also encourage you to read "the Myths" about hunger HERE.