In high school, a few girlfriends and I volunteered for Edmonton’s Food Bank, back when the main warehouse was still located downtown, just off Jasper Avenue. Our weekly task centered around repackaging dry or fresh goods so individual portions could be placed in hampers. I remember marvelling at how well coordinated the Food Bank was – the organization seemed to operate with assembly-line efficiency, with our portions eventually taken to the hamper assembly area, and bagged into hampers to be picked up by clients. There never seemed to be a time when the interview rooms were empty – frontline staff were continuously busy, taking calls or assessing clients in person.
Though the Food Bank’s location may have changed, the need for their service has not. And while there may be a collection box at the exit of every grocery store in the city, donations to the Food Bank are often an afterthought, in spite of their continuous provision of food to Edmonton’s needy on a daily basis.
For that reason, I really admire their current campaign called Expressions of Hunger, an attempt to engage creatives in the city on the subject of hunger. Open until March 31, 2010, the contest encourages photographers and writers to submit photos, poetry and short prose to illustrate one of five categories: physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and environmental.
In April, the entries will be posted online where people can vote for the top three photos, poems and prose in the five categories, with winners being notified on May 3. The three winners in each of the five categories will be showcased at City Hall on National Hunger Awareness Day (June 1) and until June 4, at the Carrot Community Arts Coffeehouse, from June 7 to June 23 and exhibited during the Works Festival of Art and Design at the Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts from June 25 to July 7.
I emailed Tamara Stecyk, the person behind Expressions of Hunger, with some questions about the Food Bank, and to find out her inspiration for the contest.
- While the necessity to help some Edmontonians meet their basic needs is growing, does the Food Bank foresee any particular areas of heightened need for 2010?
Edmonton’s Food Bank experienced a 70 per cent increase in use from March 2008 to March 2009 as a result of the economic downturn (from just over 9,000 people per month to almost 15,500 per month). As an organization supporting the community for almost 30 years, this is not the first time we’ve seen challenges like this. In 1996, we were serving almost 19,000 people per month and it took 12 years to see client numbers fall to the 9,000 people per month. We anticipate that the need for our services will continue throughout 2010 and over the next 5-10 years.
- What is the biggest misconception about the Food Bank?
One of the biggest misconceptions is that the Food Bank serves a particular demographic in Edmonton. In reality, anyone is one pay cheque away from using the Food Bank. If you lost your job, your marriage fell apart, became very sick or faced unforeseen expenses, you may need to turn to our organization to help you through that tough time.
- How did the Food Bank conceive of the Expressions of Hunger contest?
I work in the Special Events and Community Relations department at Edmonton’s Food Bank, and was struck by photos related to food banks that I came across on the Internet. Active in social media, I was also aware that there is a strong photography community in Edmonton and proposed an online contest that would explore the nature of hunger in our society.
- What has the response been to the contest so far?
The response to Expressions of Hunger has been a bit disappointing. We have 4 photo and 10 literary entries. With such creative talent in the Edmonton area, we thought we would receive more response. But there still remains a month left for submissions so perhaps possible participants are procrastinating.
- If you could encourage every person to recognize National Hunger Awareness Day (June 1) in one way, what would that be?
We encourage people to recognize National Hunger Awareness Day by organizing a food drive, a fundraiser, a discussion around food insecurity or participate in Expressions of Hunger. For more information about National Hunger Awareness Day, click here.