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Fighting hunger across Canada the Salvation Army way

COVID-19 has been a difficult time for many Canadians. It has been even harder on Canadians who were already vulnerable, particularly those who were already struggling with their grocery bills. Food banks say the level of need has never been greater, and many families have been forced to ask for help for the first time.

Food banks and other charitable organizations have had to come up with creative solutions to make sure everyone has access to healthy food, all while keeping volunteers and clients safe through physical distancing. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has boosted this effort through emergency food programs such as the Emergency Food Security Fund, the Local Food Infrastructure Fund and the Surplus Food Rescue Program, which help national community organizations like the Salvation Army improve access to food during this extraordinary time.

We have profiled some of the great volunteer work happening at food banks across the county, including Peachland Food Bank in British Columbia, Greener Village and West Side food banks in New Brunswick, and the Glace Bay Food Bank Society in Nova Scotia.

Today, we salute the volunteers at the Salvation Army by telling some of their stories.

The Salvation Army: A history of hope

Historical photo of two Salvation Army workers
The Salvation Army began its work in Canada in 1882.

The Salvation Army has always understood and championed the importance of a healthy meal to a person's sense of dignity. Since the beginning of its work in Canada in 1882, the Army has built its work on the foundations of a nutritious meal, served in a caring manner that respects the individual. Its pioneering system of soup kitchens, a controversial idea at the time, helped to make it into the trusted organization it is today. Over the years, the Salvation Army has evolved along with the needs of Canadians, but its guiding philosophy remains the same: hope can only be built on a full stomach.

This mission has taken on additional importance during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has put additional stress on Canadians' finances. The Salvation Army has seen the level of need increase by a factor of five in some communities. In fact, not since the Second World War has the Salvation Army in Canada experienced such a dramatic increase in the number of people seeking assistance.

Calgary: A new food hamper program

Man loads box of donated food into the trunk of a car
In Calgary, volunteers brought food out of people’s trunks to offer help while physically distancing.

Jane Ellen Forbes, Community Ministries Manager at the Salvation Army in Calgary, has been involved with the organization since 2013. She began as a seasonal hire who drove around the city at night collecting donations made during the Army's famous "kettle campaigns." She was eventually asked to coordinate the kettle campaign, the start of a career with the Salvation Army that she calls her "dream job." "I've always been very passionate about making sure people have food in their bellies," she says.

Jane Ellen and Salvation Army Community Services held "pop-up" food hamper events around the city where those seeking assistance could pop their trunk and stay in their vehicles while volunteers provided them with their choice of food items. The initiative began as a way to continue services when hot meal programs for children were disrupted by school closures, and by July had already served more than 3,000 people, half of them children. The event was a great success that helped the Salvation Army respond to the increased level of need during the pandemic, all while keeping volunteers and clients safe through physical distancing.

Jane Ellen still has difficulty finding the words to explain the experience. "It was the craziest two hours of my life. We were not prepared for so many people needing help," she says of the initial event. People who have never had to ask for help before, all of a sudden didn't know what to do." What began as a modest effort to help those affected by the pandemic quickly turned into a memorable and rewarding experience for Jane Ellen  and others who stepped up to help. "Our little two-day hamper donation exploded into a lot of food that we were able to help people with," Jane Ellen explains. "It was the best experience ever." In addition to the immediate goal of providing food to those who need it, the pop-up events helped the Salvation Army make important contacts with other charitable organizations.

Hamilton: Supporting individuals with developmental disabilities

Workers at The Salvation Army’s Lawson Ministries community kitchen prepare fresh meals for clients.
Workers at The Salvation Army’s Lawson Ministries community kitchen prepare fresh meals for clients.

In Hamilton, Ontario, the Salvation Army's Lawson Ministries is a network of people that strives to provide support and social inclusion to individuals with developmental disabilities and their families.

Lawson's executive director Deanna Finch-Smith has been with the organization for 24 years, and is a passionate advocate for the disabled. As a child she spent a lot of time with a neighbour who had a developmental disability, a friendship that had a profound effect on her. She received a degree in social work studies at Fanshawe College, working in a wide range of jobs in the field before her position as executive director at Lawson Ministries.

To help keep their clients safe during the pandemic, Lawson has been providing nutritious meals cooked in an industrial kitchen and delivered to their homes. Some of the clients would have difficulty navigating through grocery stores that are changed to satisfy physical distancing requirements, and Lawson's kitchen was ready to step up to the plate.

"COVID-19 hit us quick," Deanna says. "We wanted to reduce the risk of contamination and transmission of the disease, so we began to take meals regularly into the homes of those whom we serve. A generous grant from Agriculture Canada made it possible for us to support the initiative."

For Deanna and her team, making healthy meals for her clients goes beyond simply providing one of the necessities of life. The act of planning, preparing and sharing a meal with another person is a deeply meaningful act that helps us feel connected to those around us. The team works hard to ensure the clients have a say in the menu, and are involved in the preparation of meals where possible.

Looking forward to when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, her goal is for clients to be able to learn from the community kitchen's chefs and train for jobs in restaurants or kitchens. For the dedicated team at Lawson, it's an essential part of their vision of a society in which everyone belongs. According to Deanna, it's a simple issue of respecting human rights and treated every person “as a valued part of their community, with all of the opportunities granted to others.”

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