by Anne Jardine
Local Food Security & Kootenay-Columbia Part VII
Wayne Stetski, NDP Candidate for Kootenay-Columbia was Mayor of Cranbrook when he first became aware of serious food insecurity as a local public concern. The school district was offering school breakfast and lunch programs, which quickly grew as the need became evident - too many students were going to school hungry.
Stetski volunteered the city of Cranbrook to be one of seven communities across British Columbia to pilot poverty reduction programs with the support of the provincial government. It was clear to him that some of the most vulnerable children were simply not getting enough to eat on the weekends.
The Salvation Army’s Backpack Project was born as a way to provide healthy food items for students to take home on the weekend. More support was needed. Stetski met with the Inter-Ministerial Committee of Cranbrook’s church leaders and asked for help. A local “mission” was created as several churches started to host community meals. It was around this time too that a new Community Garden idea came forward.
“Cranbrook already had a community allotment garden where people could rent plots for cultivation. The Food Action Committee came to Council with a proposal to open a free garden space where anyone could come, plant, work, and harvest. We wondered how this would work, but decided to support the group to try their idea out. It worked out well and both Community Gardens are still going strong,” said Stetski.
He goes on to explain that in the years between 2011-2014, he and many of the important and passionate social agencies worked on poverty reduction in Cranbrook. The Food Bank, a supposedly temporary service that was started in the 1980s, had already become a growing institution. Poverty was not going away.
Now, ten years later, Stetski volunteers with the Cranbrook Food Bank each Monday delivering boxes of groceries to people who are so thankful.
“Delivering food is a small thing I can do; the need is there, and the people are great! Food Banks are important to have, but in such a rich country as Canada, it’s disappointing that we have to have them. It tells us that we still have a lot to do to help bring people out of poverty,” says Stetski.
He explains that the Cranbrook Food Bank has recently moved into a new, much better building from which it serves over 400 families. It is also able to serve two related programs – a Food Recovery Project and the Farm Kitchen.
“Poverty can be debilitating, and often people living in poverty don’t even know what services are there to help them,” Stetski comments.
He further explains that food security concerns are important to all parts of Canada, not just the Columbia-Kootenay. The Federal Government created a new food advisory council in 2020, with expert members appointed from all over the country. Its intent is to oversee the food distribution and affordability variables and make recommendations for policy. This may move us a few steps toward the reduction and elimination of malnutrition as a result of food insecurity and poverty.
Cranbrook Public Garden - Photo Credit Cranbrook Food Action Committee