Addressing access to food is the driving vision at the Archway Food Bank. Along with food hampers, the Food Bank also provides access to baby supplies, menstruation products, dental care, Christmas gifts, and food delivery services for adults 60+ and who have mobility and/or accessibility restrictions, and who may be homebound.
“We have long recognized that food is the ultimate community builder,” shared Neil, the Director of Advocacy and Social Equity. “As support from our community has grown over the years, we have been able to expand the food security work we do based on the needs that we see.”
The primary goal of the Food Bank is to ensure access to healthy, nutritious and culturally appropriate food while empowering individuals to make healthy food choices.
In addition to meeting people’s immediate needs, and in partnership with other Archway programs, staff are currently working to help address the systemic issues attached to food insecurity. It’s been recognized that this is a complex goal and one which is best achieved through coordination, community partnership, focused advocacy and a deep understanding of client needs.
Strengthening the System
In order to make the Food Bank as welcoming and accessible as possible, when people first visit, only a few questions are asked – including verifying that they live in Abbotsford.
“We recognize that asking for help can be a challenging thing to do and we don’t want to add any barriers to accessing food,” said Rebecca, the Food Bank supervisor. “After meeting that immediate need, we ask individuals to register and then we can work alongside them to help identify additional supports and services that are available to them.”
“We are looking at ways we can make access to food more readily available. It’s about making connections, tapping into programs at Archway that can help or collaborating with other agencies in the community. Rather than duplicating services, it’s about working together to strengthen the food system,” said Matt, a Food Bank employee.
While the primary goal of the Food Bank is to ensure access to food, there is recognition that food insecurity does not occur in a vacuum and is also experienced in conjunction with other unmet needs. Community partners have made it possible for the Food Bank to meet some of these practical needs.
One need that has often come up is not having a working vehicle which is a barrier to maintaining employment or being able to bring children to school. A partnership between Northview Community Church and local businesses like Hub Motors and Lordco Auto Parts resulted in assistance with car repairs, maintenance and securing discounted parts and labour.
“It was just kind of a chain effect, where people were helping across the board,” said Matt.
In partnership with Archway’s Multicultural Department, the Seva Food Pantry was launched in November 2020 to help ensure that culturally appropriate food is available to South Asian and multi-ethnic groups.
It was initially funded in part from the government of Canada’s Emergency Community Support Fund, Abbotsford Community Foundation, Khalsa Credit Union, Maximum Collision and the Patrika Newspaper. Today, funding for this Food Bank program is widespread and includes numerous community partners and individuals. The Seva Food Pantry is currently providing over 45 households with monthly hampers containing lentils, chickpeas, basmati rice and cooking oil and more.
“We have long seen a need in the communities we serve but clients weren’t always comfortable with accessing a food bank,” said Manpreet Sarai, the supervisor of the South Asian Community Resource Office.
“Now we work with volunteers to deliver the culturally appropriate hampers directly to the clients and have food available in our office for emergency support.”
“The Abbotsford community is consistently one of the most generous cities in all of Canada, and we’re so thankful that so many have chosen to support our community members who access the Food Bank,” said Neil.
“Our partnerships and group of monthly donors is growing, and their consistent support allows us to be even more impactful in reducing food insecurity.”
A recent grant from Food Banks Canada allowed the Archway Food Bank to invest in pallet jacks, enabling their drivers to deliver food to clients with increased efficiency. There are also plans to add another refrigerated truck to their existing lineup, allowing them to reach even more people across the city.
Their delivery service brings food to the elderly and others who cannot leave their homes, especially during COVID-19. Before the pandemic, 30-40 households were receiving deliveries each month. Now, staff are delivering to around 160 households a month.
This increase would never have been possible without the generosity of the community and partners.
Sharing Food with Other Organizations
In addition to satellite food banks across the city, donated food is also shared with other organizations.
“If an organization has a food component to their programming, there’s a good chance that they are receiving at least some of their food from Archway,” said Matt.
“This way more people have access to the food than we would normally be able to reach. We’re supporting organizations that are already on the ground doing the work they do well through their existing relationships with different populations.”
Rushia Klassen, the Women’s Pastor at the Central Heights Women’s Centre shared, “the impact of partnering with the Food Bank has been incredible as we don’t have the resources to purchase these fresh food items for the many families we interact with weekly.”
“Dropping off a box of food at a door allows us to listen, care and respond to the other needs in a family’s journey. This is a connection time during a difficult season that has been meaningful and powerful.”
“I wish people knew that people who come to the Food Bank are strong and are trying the best that they can. There are no certain types of people that are in this situation, people just fall through challenging times. Some people need us temporarily, others a bit longer, but they all just need this extra support.”
Matt with some of the donations
Manpreet and a volunteer with some of the culturally appropriate food donations in the Seva Food Pantry
John using the pallet jacks purchased with a Food Banks Canada grant
John and Sam with donated diapers
Dr. Fiona* used to go overseas for volunteer work but now she volunteers weekly at the Food Bank Dental Clinic.
“I decided that there’s a big need locally, so why not to do it here? And there’s so much personal satisfaction that comes with giving my time this way,” she said.
Dr. Fiona is one of the two dentists currently volunteering at the free dental clinic.
There used to be 10 dentists taking shifts, but some have left the community, taken a step back due to COVID or had other commitments come up.
Before COVID, the demand for the Food Bank Dental Clinic was already high, with a waitlist of up to a year. And it has doubled since then.
“So, I’m doing my best, sending people who have coverage to partnering dental offices, and working with those that don’t have insurance,” said Lala, the Dental Clinic Coordinator.
“Unfortunately, one trend that I notice is more and more seniors applying to get into the clinic. Many types of benefits coverage only go up to 65 and once an individual goes on Old Age Pension, they usually lose their coverage. It’s heart-breaking to see seniors who have been working all their lives not being able to afford to pay over $3,000 for dentures.”
While the waitlist for preventative and routine dental care is long, if there is ever a dental emergency, Lala can call on local dentists who provide the work pro bono because of the relationship they have built over the years.
Reflecting on her decade at the Food Bank, Lala shares “I wish people knew that people who come to the Food Bank are strong and are trying the best that they can. There are no certain types of people that are in this situation, people just fall through challenging times. Some people need us temporarily, others a bit longer, but they all just need this extra support.”
*Real name withheld by request
Lala in the Dental Clinic
Looking to the Future
“As demand for food support increases, we aim to meet our community clients support needs. Working alongside individuals who use the Food Bank,
support providers, donors and partners, we will continue to build and strengthen cross-referral relationships with social service agencies and community support providers. New partnerships will be explored to help ensure that food support is more readily available to specific target groups and that our capacity to provide culturally appropriate food and fresh food is increased,” said Neil.
Another dream is expanding their building to be able to provide more services in a purpose-built space. “We’ve long outgrown our current building and are looking at options for renovating, rebuilding or even relocating,” said Neil.
“It feels like an impossible dream, but we know that our community is behind us. Our community has always risen to the challenge as we’ve seen demonstrated during the pandemic and for more than 30 years.”
Chris and Robert trying to find room for the all the donations