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Food security in times of crisis

by | May 1, 2020

As part of a crisis plan, food needs to be part of the response.

So much has changed in the last six weeks. In what felt like a heartbeat, the world changed, and our communities were faced with so much unknown. Governments, businesses, charities, families and individuals had to adapt.

There is an analogy that I like to refer to, especially in times of crisis. My grandfather was a firefighter in the 1940s and he was sent out to battle the flames with only a helmet, jacket and boots. How fires are fought today has changed dramatically – buildings are made different, we use technology, fire suppression is not just water, and firefighters are better trained and protected. What has not changed is fire itself. It is still powerful and life changing. Time and resources are put into the preparation for fighting a fire so when your neighbour’s house is burning, lives can be saved. We were already fighting a “food security” fire when COVID-19 and the subsequent economic fallout hit. Every day we were working diligently to address the immediate needs of families and individuals in our community.

What is highlighted in times of disaster – be it fire, flood or pandemic – is that food needs to be part of the response; unfortunately, it is rarely considered. Policy around food does not engage with the established food service charities providing the stop gap. Food banks and food service organizations are experts in the implementation of food safety, public health and social wellbeing. We advocate for change and client security in the long run. We know this landscape and have the tools to ensure resiliency for all.

As surprising as it is, Food Banks in Alberta were only declared to be essential services by the provincial government on March 28th yet we were always there, helping, connecting, and feeding people. We advocated to ensure food banks were finally considered an essential service so the food needs of Calgarians could be met.

An amazing group of staff at the Calgary Food Bank converted our processes overnight to ensure physical distancing, pandemic appropriate food handling, additional protection of client privacy and safety, and more. They changed us into Canada’s largest drive-through Food Bank, ensuring no one went without food during this pandemic. They created and confirmed food safety protocols; knowing that food handling could be a transmission source of the virus. They implemented food isolation processes along our food’s journey from donation to sorting to hamper creation to distribution.

We have been able to address the immediate situation, but we need to feed people down the road because now more than ever, all Calgarians are vulnerable. Funding promises must be enacted, donations are essential, and safety is paramount.

When the flames are raging, it is not the time to apply for funding for water, a pump and a fire hose. Food insecurity is a symptom of something else – most notably income insecurity – and this is amplified in our current situation. Let’s feed people today, and tomorrow. Let’s be thoughtful for the future. How will we move policy and change lives for the better before there is another fire?



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