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East end food bank still on menu

 By Kevin Werner, News Staff

Hamilton Food Share executive director Joanne Santucci says if you want to create a sustainable food bank operation, reach out to an established organization.

It’s a suggestion Ward 5 councillor Chad Collins, and about 25 East Hamilton Food Bank Initiative volunteers are seriously considering.

“Joanne recognizes the issues, and told us to partner with an existing service provider,” said Collins. “We are looking into it.”

Santucci attended a recent information meeting with Collins’ group to provide some valuable experience to create a food bank from scratch.

“The people (in the Riverdale area) are underserviced and there is a genuine need,” said Santucci. “But the organization needs to be viable and sustainable.”

Providers have to determine the type of food to offer, who will use it, and what hours will the facility have.

“It needs to be well thought out,” she said. “The image of people handing out food from a church basement is gone. There needs to be a discussion on how it can happen and make it a reality. We have a very committed group here.”

Collins proposed last spring to create a food bank in his area after the Stoney Creek Community Food Bank relocated from its rent-free building in the city’s downtown to Winona October, 2011. It provided food to about 600 people.

Collins says there are no food banks between Winona and Wentworth Street in Ward 4, except for a few small operations, such as the Community Access to Child Health that provides food to about 85 families, Lightway Church at Queenston Road and Centennial Parkway, and St. Matthew’s House in the former St. Helen’s School on Britannia Avenue.

City food banks remain under constant pressure as they attempt to nourish a growing number of people. This year food banks are serving 19,000 residents, of which 44 per cent are children. Just over 7,900 households used a food bank this year with about 54 per cent are parents with children under 18 years.

“I don’t know who loves going to a food bank,” said Santucci. “You see people coming in, and it’s pretty tough for them to ask for food.”

So far up to 30 people have joined Collins as they collect information about operating a food bank. They have toured other establishments such as Neighbour to Neighbour, St. Matthew’s and Mission Services to look at their models.

“It’s all part of the education process,” he said.

Collins does have some criteria for the east end food bank. It should be located on a bus route, preferably in the Eastgate Square area. He also wants the food bank to provide food for a diverse population. He said newcomers may not find macaroni and cheese, or soups appealing for their specialized diets.

It’s too early to say how much it will cost to create a food bank, or what resources the group can access, said Collins. But he wants a plan developed by the early part of 2013.

“We’ve had four good meetings,” said Collins. “We are making progress.”

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