The number of families and individuals accessing a food program in Winnipeg’s North End is on the rise, according to a study conducted by the University of Manitoba.
According to the study, between January and June of 2019, 12,125 people were served at the Bear Clan Food Patrol’s main headquarters in the Point Douglas area of the city where on average 117 people were served each day.
Point Douglas is in what is known as a “food desert,” which is typically located in an urban setting, “where low‐income residents have limited or no access to retail food establishments.”
A majority of the people served are between the ages of 50 and 59.
The home base or ‘den’ as the Bear Clan calls it, was started for people like Grant Graham.
“A lot of seniors depend on it. Our government really don’t look after us,” said the 67-year-old.
“I’ve got 41 years of driving big semis and because there’s no pension as far as doing that you’ve got to put in something yourself.”
(Grant Graham says a lot of seniors depend on the Bear Clan Patrol’s food program. Photo: Brittany Hobson/APTN)
Graham uses the program up to three times a week.
He picks up fruit, vegetables, bread and baked goods such as cookies.
Graham used to use other food banks but switched to the Bear Clan’s this year.
“This is handy – it’s only four blocks from my house. It’s also open seven days a week, so you don’t need an appointment or a medical card or anything,” he said referring to some of the restrictions at other organizations.
But it’s not just about convenience – access to free food allows Graham to put otherwise allocated money toward his medication.
The program started after the organization noticed food insecurity was a major concern in the area.
James Favel, executive director of Bear Clan Patrol, used to distribute food out of the back of his own vehicle before the group moved into its current location on Selkirk Avenue in the North End at the beginning of this year.
“In our community it’s easier to get bongs and crack pipes at a corner store than it is to get an apple and an orange,” said Favel.
Favel expects to serve 40,000 by the end of the year.
Once someone is introduced to the program they often return, said Favel.
“We don’t give a lot of food out but we give enough that they can get by today and then they can come back tomorrow and do it again,” he said.
The group works with six main grocers. They are in charge of picking up the food daily using two vans the group owns. They then put the food out at their home base and people are welcome to take as they need.
Favel said the program fills a gap in the area where grocery stores are few and far between, and as a result is changing the lives of community members for the better.
“It’s a determinant of health. [If] you can’t get access to fresh fruits and vegetables your health is going to suffer and so this is what we offer,” he said.
Megan Leret, 32, recently started using the program after relocating from Regina a month and a half ago.
The mother of five says it has made the move easier.
“It was hard transitioning on social assistance…they gave us toiletries and fresh fruit and vegetables…and it helped,” said Leret.
(Megan Leret says the food centre helped her settle in Winnipeg. Photo: Brittany Hobson/APTN)
As the program continues to expand so do the expenses that go along with it.
The centre currently has approximately $10,000 in expenses each month with five paid positions and three volunteers.
Favel says the group needs to hire more staff including an additional driver.
Current electrical limitations in their current building doesn’t allow for the group to install a refrigeration system, which prevents them from distributing meat on a regular basis. To accommodate the group would have to move locations.
Favel hopes the study, which Bear Clan commissioned, “demonstrates the validity and importance of the program,” and will bring in new fundraising opportunities by the new year.
(The food program offers fruit, vegetables, bread and baked goods such as cookies. Photo: Brittany Hobson/APTN)
Program staff estimate that in 2018, $343,750 worth of food was distributed through the program and projections for 2019 equate to $660,000.
And there are challenges coming down the road, according to the report.
Staff burnout, security, adequate space and storage, and accessibility are all issues that will have to be addressed by the Bear Clan’s board if the program is going to continue to serve the community.
The quality of the food is also an ongoing concern.
“The volume of food distributed, and the options available, are unpredictable and variable as it is completely dependent on what is donated by the grocers,” the report said. “Patrons receive unequal amounts of food as it is given out on a ‘first come – first serve’ basis. The program is also affected by seasonality.
“In the winter staff indicate the amount of produce is far less, leaving bread and bread products as the main give out. Of note, sometimes families will ask for infant formula which is rarely available, leaving a gap for feeding infants.”
The Bear Clan Patrol took to the streets four years ago to help Winnipeg’s vulnerable.
Its program is a charitable food re-distribution program that began in 2017.
It started when grocers and food vendors offered to donate produce and bread products to the group to hand out to people in the community.