Annual report | Blog
OFFERING SUPPORT BEYOND FOOD
The Calgary Food Bank has known for years that food is a great connector and our Community Liaison Team are the expert connectors. Food opens the door to conversation that leads to other types of aid; ultimately contributing to successful independence and a more fulfilling and happier life.
For 38 years our clients could access seven hampers in a year, and only after 30 days. Their first three hampers could be accessed by calling directly to request. If additional hampers were needed, a referral was made to an organization who worked with them on food insecurity issues and organized their future food support.
In March 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic turned lives upside down, increasing rates of unemployment and the risk of food insecurity. To ensure people had access to the food they needed during this crisis, we opened accessibility so that households could access as many hampers as they needed in a 12-month period, available every 10 days if needed. The pandemic also impacted many community organizations’ operations, many transitioned programs online or limited offerings due to social distance protocols. This affected referrals to their programs, so we removed that requirement to ensure there were no barriers to accessing emergency food. The pause in referrals turned into an opportunity.
We revamped the process and have now initiated a more client centric, trauma-informed way to guide clients to supports beyond food. Today we have trained Referral* & Resource volunteers who call clients that opt for follow-up. Together they explore community organizations that can meet the needs of the individual’s unique situation. Alongside a call with a trained volunteer, people can also access the referral questionnaire right on the website and in their own time.
This new initiative began in earnest this past Spring and the results have been eye-opening. Calgary Food Bank clients want guidance. They are looking for help guiding the vastness of the social service system. Anecdotal evidence has shown this a critical offering with the most requested assistance in these areas:
1. I need help applying for benefits/ I do not know what government benefits I am eligible for.
2. I am receiving a fixed government benefit and do not have enough money to consistently pay my rent each month.
3. I am receiving a fixed government benefit and do not have enough money to consistently pay my utilities each month.
We continue to evaluate the impact these referrals* provide. In the meantime, we will continue to include the question “Do you need help beyond food?” when connecting with clients so that we can more effectively address the root cause of hunger.
*The Calgary Food Bank does not offer verified referrals, but rather guidance to other organizations that can offer support.