Surrey Food Bank volunteer Fern Fennell carries onions out of storage to the food distribution room on Nov. 17.

Feeding Surrey’s hungry

Job loss and unaffordable housing remain concerns for one of the fastest growing regions in the country

Dozens of people walk into a warehouse-style building in Surrey’s Whalley neighbourhood. It’s late Thursday morning and most of them have one thing in common – they’re carrying totes or wheeling carts behind them.

They’re coming to use a service that was meant to be a ‘temporary solution to a temporary problem’ when it was established 34 years ago – but decades later, the Surrey Food Bank still serves 14,000 people per month.

In B.C., the number of food bank users has grown by 33 per cent. That keeps B.C. with the third highest number of food bank users in the country, something that a Food Banks Canada report released Tuesday notes could be due to B.C. being the only province with no poverty reduction strategy.

WATCH: Why Fern Fennell volunteers

Surrey Food Bank executive director Marilyn Herrmann said the number of customers has fluctuated over the years, though it’s hard to track, but it certainly hasn’t dropped.

“The challenging thing is that that people don’t necessarily use the food bank for long periods of time. It’s temporary and short-term – maybe they’ve lost their job, maybe they’re waiting for EI, they don’t have family they can turn to for support,” she said.

While clients can use the Surrey food bank every two weeks, most of them only use it one to five times per year.

Herrmann is happy with that irregularity. Anything else, she believes, isn’t the best case use.

“We’re an emergency service. We’re here to support but not to feed people over long periods of time,” she said.

“People leave here with three to four days worth of food – people are thinking we’re giving [our clients] two weeks of food and we wouldn’t even be able to begin to do that, nor is that our role.”

When clients come in for the first time, they get asked one particular question: “What has to change in your life for you not to need the food bank?”

The hope is that when circumstance change, the clients can go back to being self-sufficient.

“We get three answers – ‘I need affordable housing,’ ‘I need more more money’ and ‘I wouldn’t need you if I had affordable daycare,’” said Herrmann, adding that most people coming in are the working poor.

A never-ending fight against hunger

With the ongoing crisis in Syria, Surrey has become the home for thousands of refugees. According to Food Banks Canada, nearly 1,700 have been relocated to the Lower Mainland and nearly half of those ended up in Surrey. Canada-wide, refugees make up 13 per cent of food bank users.

A Food Banks Canada report cites a 17-per-cent increase in demand for food bank services in Surrey, and attributes much of that to new refugees, but Herrmann said the city’s already quickly growing multicultural population has made it easier to absorb the newcomers.

“Certainly language is an issue but if you think about it, anytime you go somewhere new it takes time before you feel part of that community.”

“They’re incredibly well-educated – I know right now of a doctor and a dentist who are looking for truck driving jobs because they can’t practice here – so we’re very sensitive of that. I don’t know when somebody walks through our doors what has happened in their life.”

WATCH: Why people come to the food bank

Helping kids get a good start

More than one-tenth of food bank clients are under age six. That’s inspired the Surrey branch to start three services for pregnant women, babies, toddlers and pre-kindergarten aged kids – Tiny Bundles, Toddler Totes and Pre-K.

“Once they get into the school systems, there’s wonderful breakfast programs and there’s support there, but that first four years is pretty dependent upon the family,” said Herrmann.

The food bank used to rely on donations for formula and hand it out to moms when they had it.

“In my early days here, a mum came in with her little one, begging for formula. I didn’t have any and she went away crying. She cried and I cried because what was she going to do now? It’s expensive to buy formula,” said Herrmann.

She related that story to the board of directors.

“They said, ‘Don’t let that happen again.’”

 

@katslepian

katya.slepian@pbdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Surrey public event to explore transition from RCMP to city police force

Surrey Board of Trade continuing its ‘Hot Topic Dialogue Series’ with this issue, on Tuesday Jan. 29

Surrey’s new Age-Well hub receives $3.5M in government funding

Hub is meant to drive development of healthy tech solutions to support healthy aging: SFU

Dancer gives props to Surrey school program for allowing him to leap to world stage

North Surrey grad Bynh Ho in ‘Loop, Lull’ show at Vancouver’s PuSh festival

KidSport’s Nite of Champions to honour championship Coastal FC squad

Annual South Surrey event will feature Vancouver Canucks coach Travis Green as keynote speaker

LISTEN: First responders share struggles with adversity in new Delta Police podcast

Bend Don’t Break allows police, firefighters and paramedics an opportunity so tell their stories

B.C. opioid crisis to get same world-renowned treatment approach as HIV/AIDS

A program that focuses on treatment as prevention will roll out Jan. 17

Olympian snowboarder Max Parrot diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma

Each year in Canada, approximately 900 people are diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma

‘Prince of Pot’ Marc Emery accused of sexual assault, harassment

Emery denied the allegations, but a Toronto woman says she is not the only one speaking out

Vancouver Island photographer makes National Geographic’s 2018 elite

Rare double honour for Marston from the 36 best Your Shots out of nearly 19,000 photos

Ex-Liberal candidate in Burnaby, B.C., says volunteer wrote controversial post

Karen Wang dropped out following online post singling out NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s ethnicity

Asteroids are smacking Earth twice as often as before

The team counted 29 craters that were no older than 290 million years

Canada’s arrest of Huawei exec an act of ‘backstabbing,’ Chinese ambassador says

China has called Canada’s arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou ‘politically motivated’

Manure company causing ‘toxic’ stink at Abbotsford school seeks permit

Property across from King Traditional Elementary cannot operate manure facility without permit

North Delta happening: week of Jan. 17

Events, courses and clubs listings for North Delta

Most Read