The Role of Food During Trauma and Crisis

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This post is by Calgary Food Bank CEO James McAra, discussing food issues and impacts on our community.

You can also follow James and No Hunger in YYC on Twitter.

Sudden change can create a crisis or an emergency situation.  Just as the devastating floods did in 2013, the current economic climate forced thousands to experience unexpected job loss and, again, an emergency situation is now the experience of many in our city and our province.

As in any emergency situation, first aid is applied to an injury.  Whether it is paramedics, police or other crisis workers in the case of the flood, or career coaches, psychologists and other professionals in the case of those experiencing sudden unemployment, it is food that becomes the thing that stops the bleeding until the right support arrives.  Yet, food is never on the list of emergency needs.  Why?

Food security in a time of crisis is essential. When there is a disaster – from environmental to economic – food inevitably enters the equation, planned or not.  The CFB started in 1982 as a coordinated community response to help neighbours during a similar time of massive layoffs. As a primary responder, the CFB is an important part of the healing and recovery process, providing food and stabilizing families in their time of crisis.

The evolution, development and role of the CFB is similar to that of my grandfather.  He was a firefighter in the 1940’s and he shared the horror stories of what he faced with an axe, bucket, boots and helmet.  He eventually became a fire inspector and put his knowledge to prevention.  Stronger walls, fire retardant materials, smoke and carbon dioxide detectors, community planning, resource allocation, CPR and more became the focus for him and many like him.  Their knowledge sparked the preventative thinking that continues to change the role of the firefighter even today.

Like the firefighter, the CFB continues to evolve.  We connect people with agencies and programming that fits their emergency situation, because we have the experience and proof that connecting people to community supports reduces the likelihood of further crisis.  When a trigger event, like a layoff, has occurred in a family and they find themselves without food, the root causes that led to the situation have taken away energy that would have otherwise focused on food.  Food is bargained away in an attempt to address the crisis.  In many circumstances food is often the only ‘option’ to go without and that can be disastrous.  Parents will eat less, or less frequently, so that their children will not be without.  Referrals and recommendations toward housing, employment services, credit review, mental health programs and other support services are the next step in a spectrum of support for a family in crisis.  When we address the root cause in partnership with the experts, we can apply the healing – and continue to nourish back to wholeness.

A secure hand off to community supports and connections, the CFB moves to the role as a support for those agencies.  What food is needed for that program supporting families and how can we assist?  We do not work in isolation when supporting our neighbours, we support each other, starting with food, to move into recovery.

Today our role spans a spectrum from primary responder to community supporter to crisis preventer.  Still led by the vision of our creation, but with broader responsibility. Our challenge is to build the voice of food and its role in writing and re-writing policies and decisions in partnership with our clients and our community.

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