Food, glorious F.O.O.D.!
Lipton Sidekicks. Wieners. Cans of pumpkin pie filling. Not inspiring, not nutritious—but mainstays of food bank hampers. Surely we can do better, providing service users with opportunities to become active participants in their consumption choices. But how? Let’s see.
Owen Sound has a Good Food Box program, yet it has often been noted that distribution and access are issues (unlike Toronto’s FoodShare, Owen Sound’s program does not deliver its boxes).
In a project piloted in Woodstock, Ontario, a Christian charity named Operation Sharing devised Food for Friends. This program was developed in partnership with Sobey’s grocery stores, and is supported through 25¢ donations collected at point of sale. The money thus raised is then converted to special store vouchers and assigned to service users in need. It’s a simple, why-didn’t-they-think-of-it-before concept, which has at least one major drawback.
On the plus side, it allows “clients/consumers” to be so in the truest sense: selective participants and active choosers, and not merely recipients of aid. Needless to say, choice is not merely empowering, it is a simple necessity, for the current hamper system does not accommodate food intolerances, medical conditions or allergies, nor does it furnish produce.
Also on the pro side, the 25¢ donation level is just low enough to encourage year-round collection and to conflict neither with the popular seasonal charity campaigns run by various enterprises, nor interfere with the Salvation Army’s annual food drives. It is vital that no new program impinge upon the activities of any other, as the donation dollar is understandably tight.
On the con side, one can hear already the rumblings that tobacco and junk food would inevitably wind up in the shopping cart. However, discretionary, non-grocery items can easily be exempt from the program, and to those who would protest that snacks are too hard to resist, my rejoinder is that the sanctioned Sidekick and scurrilous Mars bar are twins conjoined by the same cholesterol-clogged circulatory system. At any rate, there are in place numerous community-level strategies for addressing consumer nutrition awareness.
Also on the negative side—and this is the major factor, as indicated above—are the potential consequences for social assistance recipients who obtain that which might be construed as monetary gifts or additional income. Simply put, acknowledgment of anything that is not a donation in kind results in deductions from the assistance recipient’s already meagre base living allowance. The current legislation is strict, rigid, and until the Province reforms it, will remain the by far the biggest issue faced by those of us who would propose a voucher program.
So, I ask you: do you have experience with this type of project? Have you any insights on how to avoid pitfalls? Have you seen programs like this succeed or struggle in other jurisdictions? Send me your questions, comments and criticisms!