May 17, 2019 6:21 pm

Edmonton Food Bank initiative goes ‘Beyond Food’

A Beyond Food Client works at a desk.

Marjorie Bencz/Edmonton's Food Bank
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Every month, more than 22,000 people are fed by the Edmonton Food Bank. The organization is hoping to lower that number dramatically with the help of an initiative.

The food bank is constantly at work in the community, providing meals for Edmontonians in need. Its central warehouse collects and redistributes food to more than 250 agencies, churches and food depots throughout Edmonton.

But, the organization goes further than food; providing people with tools that can help them escape the cycle of hunger.

Executive Director Marjorie Bencz said the food bank has partnered with volunteers, partner organizations and community agencies to provide resources through the Beyond Food program.

LISTEN BELOW: Edmonton’s Food Bank initiative goes “Beyond Food”

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“We’ve been able to mobilize different community partners that have expertise in certain areas. Edmonton’s Food Bank specializes in food. What we’ve done over the last couple of years is we have reached out to partners to provide additional services,” Bencz said.

“We’re working to see what services they can bring on site that would help people turning to the food bank.”

The Bissell Centre, Boyle Street and The Salvation Army have all partnered with the food bank, working to reduce dependencies on food resources over time.

“For several weeks, The Salvation Army was on site hosting tax clinics. It helped people fill out their income tax, which triggered other types of supports into households.

“Those financial and tax services helped us give people SIN numbers and complete forms that trigger different income support,” Bencz explained.

The Bissell Centre has a long history of providing these services in the community, Bencz said. The Edmonton Food Bank brought the organization on-site to help with resumes, job searches and interview practices.

READ MORE: Edmonton non-profit hosts massive New Year’s meal to ring in 2019

At a job fair hosted by the food bank in January 2019, 50 of the nearly 150 people who submitted their resumes were hired.

“If people are employed, they are able to pay their rent. They can look after their kids. They will have a different kind of independence than being dependent on the food bank or systems for support.”

Tamisan Bencz-Knight, manager of strategic relationships and partnerships at the Edmonton Food Bank, told 630 CHED’s The Ryan Jespersen Show in April 2019 the organization was experiencing significant lows.

LISTEN BELOW: Edmonton and Calgary food banks experiencing lows

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At the time, when comparing the first quarter of 2019 with the first quarter of 2018, the food bank was down about 30,000 kilograms of public food donations.

READ MORE: Edmonton Food Bank low on donations, demand still high: ‘People are struggling’

“The challenge we have right now is the volume of people needing our help. Since 2014, when the economy started to go down… that’s when we felt it.

“Traditionally, we are low but not this low, at this time. We have some major concerns,” Bencz-Knight said.

Bencz said food banks across Canada have evolved to suit the individual community’s needs.

“Some [food banks] do kitchens in their space. Some provide other kinds of social work. It does vary community to community. We are fortunate we have these great partnerships and organizations that want to help us in special and unique ways. We are growing and learning from this model.

“Every day we see new opportunities to help people without duplicating what is already happening.”

Beyond Food started small, when conversations began in 2015.

“Things started to take off in 2016. We opened the doors to the Learning Lab, which is our employment centre, at the end of 2017. It’s a relatively new program,” Bencz said. “We also received a grant from the Government of Alberta to offer free safety tickets to assist in enhancing resumes.”

As for the future, Bencz said she’s hoping the program keeps its pace up, so the demand for food could begin to slow.

“We are seeing about 16 people a day in the Beyond Food Program. It would be nice if we were seeing more people.

“If they can benefit from the program and they aren’t needing the service of the food bank, that’s success.”

Beyond Food is open to everyone and is generally a drop-in program from Monday to Friday. All services are free of charge.

A new website is set to launch this year.

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