In just a few weeks, our Everyone Eats local community initiative which started with an idea nine months ago will have provided 15,000 meals to our local community, with up to 40 percent of the meals each day provided completely free of charge to those most in need. We are proud of our efforts, but our work is only beginning as we address food insecurity in our community.
Household food security remains a serious and ongoing public health crisis across Canada, a crisis only worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Health Canada defines food insecurity as “the inability to acquire or consume an adequate diet quality or sufficient quantity of food in socially acceptable ways, or the uncertainty that one will be able to do so. Household food insecurity is often linked with the household’s financial ability to access adequate food.”
A 2020 Abacus poll found that approximately two in three Canadians are concerned that the COVID-19 pandemic will impact the price of food. Uncertainty about ongoing ability to access food is a source of stress and anxiety for many Canadians. While Statistics Canada’s most recently published data on poverty show that the official poverty rate is trending downward, the number of households reporting food insecurity actually increased between 2012 and 2018. The household food insecurity crisis, obscured by recent Statistics Canada figures, is also exacerbated by the pandemic and continues to worsen. This is unacceptable.
Our community organization, Everyone Eats in Brandon, Manitoba is pioneering a means for communities to come together and alleviate the stresses of food insecurity and hunger at the local level. We think our initiative could be adopted by local communities across Canada.
In June, we launched Everyone Eats as a not-for-profit community initiative that creates chef-inspired nutritious dinners available to anyone in the Brandon community on the basis of a “pay what you can” model. Our break-even point is $8 a meal. Some choose to pay $1 for their meal while others with means may pay $12 or more. For three days each week our kitchen is staffed with two paid employees alongside community volunteers who together create 500 meals for pickup or delivery. Volunteer drivers deliver the meals to community residents. We have so many people interested in volunteering that we are unable to use them all. Nearly half of these meals (80 each day, 240 meals in total) are provided completely free of charge on a first come first served basis, up to a maximum of eight meals per person per day.
We know that some people freeze some of these meals to eat throughout the week. The allotted daily 80 free meals become available at midnight every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and are quickly claimed in just a few hours. We are trending toward selling out of our pay what you can meals that will help subsidize the lasting sustainability of Everyone Eats.
Human capital is the most valuable part of the overall process. We leverage the knowledge and skills of each volunteer and partner in our community to take us from a desire to alleviate food insecurity and related anxieties to hot meals on tables that would otherwise be bare. Community is the magic that makes it all work. Everyone Eats is so much more than a food bank because this model of community partnerships allows individuals to both receive and contribute to Everyone Eats, according to their individual means and capabilities. Our meals are also not cans of soup. These are healthy chef inspired meals typical of a nice restaurant.
The opportunity to contribute what one is able to fosters a sense of dignity, a sense of self-efficacy, and engages people as valuable members of a caring community. Some community members claim free meals when they find themselves short of money, and later make some financial contribution toward the cost of their meals when they have the means. While not every community member has the financial wherewithal to cover the full cost of their meals, every contribution, no matter how small, is part of the overall sustainability of the program. Everyone eats and everyone matters all the same. Here is how we do it.
We secure the bulk of our food from Second Harvest which has supply chains across Canada. Second Harvest is a food rescue organization that redistributes tens of millions of pounds of unsold food to 2,300 social service organizations across Canada. We also rely on donations from local suppliers like Peak of the Market which has kindly donated two tonnes of potatoes and onions to Everyone Eats. Other smaller local retail operations who are part of the Second Harvest network also donate whenever they have items available. The secret to securing donations is simply to reach out to organizations in your community and just ask.
The most basic ingredient of the success of Everyone Eats is in our community inspired kitchen staff and our volunteers who together produce and distribute meals. It can be easy to forget that food is social: from how we eat it, talk about it, and produce and consume it. Our chef creates nutritious meals that people can identify with. We want people to connect over how good it makes them feel preparing, delivering, and eating meals. Our chef works with a network of collaborators who pick up and store large quantities of produce and volunteers who spend hours peeling and washing food to lower labour costs. Food networks can come together pretty quickly by finding community members who share the same vision.
We believe so much in what Everyone Eats has to offer that we encourage its replication in other communities. We are happy to share our Everyone Eats software, organizational plan, and connections to suppliers, and our team insights with like-minded others. While social problems and solutions are unique to individual communities, we are confident that what we have learned and created can help address food insecurity across communities in Canada.
Our hope is that one day Everyone Eats is no longer necessary. Collectively we can all work toward the elimination of food insecurity to ensure adequate access to food for all.
Ted Dzogan is President of the Board of Directors of the John Howard Society of Brandon (JHSB), Manitoba. Ross Robinson is the Executive Director of the JHSB. Written with contributions from Stacey Hannem, associate professor of criminology at Wilfrid Laurier University and Christopher J. Schneider, professor of sociology at Brandon University.